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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report Family of 4, 2 Young Teens, 14 Nights, 4 Countries

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Last month we took a family vacation to Europe. Once again, the Fodor’s forums were an invaluable source of information, mostly by reading through trip reports and answers to other people’s questions. I did post several logistic type questions and always received great information in return. My husband marvels that there are people out there who will happily (but sometimes grumpily) answer our questions. So thank you Fodorites, you are much appreciated!

There seem to often be questions about traveling with kids or doing quick stops in cities so hopefully reporting on our trip can help others.

WHO WENT: Me, my husband, our 14 year old son, our 13 year old daughter. My husband and I have both traveled quite a bit around Europe but this was the kids’ first time.

WHERE: I wanted to go to Belgium as I love beer, fries, waffles, mussels and cool, medieval towns. My husband had been before 28 years ago when backpacking around Europe and didn’t mind returning. My husband wanted to go to Ireland because of everything he had heard about it. I had been before 29 years ago when I was studying in the UK and I was happy to return as I had found the Irish to be some of the friendliest people I’d encountered and it is such a beautiful country. We decided to spend the bulk of our time in those two countries. The kids wanted to see London and Paris because they are London and Paris. We decided to give them a quick hit of the two cities and if they liked it they could return in the future on their own dime.

Our itinerary:
2 nights London
2 nights Paris
4 nights Belgium
6 nights Southwest/West Ireland

TIMING: We traveled from Jun 18 to Jul 3 and felt like we were traveling just before the big summer travel window as we really did not find large crowds anywhere. Though we saw lots of Euro Cup fans in Paris and a ton of Americans in Ireland.

OUR TRAVEL STYLE: We’d give slow travelers whiplash. We are fairly fast moving, not big shoppers, and not a huge fan of museums just because there is a museum to see. But will go to a museum if something interests us. We have a weekend home that is at least 3 hours away (and often 4 hours with rush hour/beach traffic.) I mention that to say we are all very used to driving long distances and it doesn’t bother us. My husband and I usually like to enjoy the good food and drink of the countries we are visiting. My kids’ palates are still forming and they like completely different things. So, this trip, it wasn’t a priority to seek out the best places to dine but rather a place that served something decent for everyone so we didn’t have moody teenagers picking at their food ruining our meal.

We flew over using AA miles. A few months prior to the AA/ US Air merger, my husband and I both applied for a credit card through each airline and got 50k miles for each one. Then they merged and everything converted to AA miles. So we had 200k miles to use from that. It cost 240k miles for our family of four to fly roundtrip using the Saaver awards. We could fly in/out of any of the 4 countries. Starting last summer, I began stalking the available seats [which constantly changes] and had matrices and spreadsheets and headaches. Soon after we had the required miles, miraculously, the AA day flight from Philly to LHR had 4 available seats on Sun Jun 19 and I grabbed it. For the return flight, we got 4 seats two weeks later on Sat night Jul 2 Dublin to LHR and then LHR to PHL Sun morning. That wasn’t ideal but I was hoping that 4 seats would eventually open up on the direct DUB to PHL flight.

I used to travel often to London for work in the late 90s. I almost always took the day flight and loved it. Overnight flights are the absolute pits even in business or first class because with 2 meal service disruptions (the smells of the food in coach is enough to shock you awake), there just isn’t enough time to sleep even if you are able to fall asleep. So I was doing a happy dance that we’d be able to fly over during the day and get a good night’s sleep and hit the ground running. Two months later, I awoke to an email from AA informing me that the day flight had been eliminated from their schedule and we were now on a flight to Chicago Sun afternoon and then the overnight from ORD to LHR [cue the sad trombones]. We were now going to fly 2 ½ hours west and turnaround and fly back east on a redeye to London. Not ideal. Long story short, over the next 6 months we changed our booking to PHL to Manchester redeye and were going to take the train to London that morning. Then a flight with a connection in Zurich opened up the day before so we switched to that. But, while the agent reserved it, it was never ticketed. I finally called to inquire and they weren’t allowing it due to the BA fees but never informed me of that. Because of all the headache and changes, they got a liaison to approve putting us on the Sat night PHL to LHR nonstop. This flight was never offered for less than 110k miles each, and I had checked almost every day. In the end, we got our nonstop, albeit a redeye, and we got an extra half day in London. Plus, 4 seats did eventually open up on the Dublin to PHL flight on Jul 3 eliminating the transfer and overnight at Heathrow plus $500 in BA fees. Happy dances all around!

PREPARING FOR JETLAG: Since teenagers aren’t known to be morning people, I tried to prepare the kids for the time change. School finished the Tuesday before we left so they hadn’t gotten into sleep-in summer mode yet. That whole week, I woke them up earlier and earlier and made them go to bed earlier and earlier. Therefore, we really didn’t have issues with going to bed and waking up at normal local times. They had their annual well visits a couple weeks prior and I talked to the doctor about any sleep aids that would help for the flight. She gave us a prescription for Xanax which we tried out the week prior and then took on the flight. It relaxes you and helps you fall asleep but doesn’t make you a zombie, at least it didn’t for any of us.

MOBILE PHONE SERVICE: We have Verizon Wireless here at home. Going to 4 countries, it didn’t make sense getting a local sim card in each place. I have an old iphone 5 that I considered using to open a Tmobile account so we’d have internet/ text/ phone while in Europe. Then I planned to cancel it when we got home. My husband thought it wasn’t needed and in the end I wish I hadn’t let him sway me. When you are accustomed to being able to look up anything, even a radar map to see how far away the rain is, it is pain to not have it. We had wifi each night/morning at our hotels but went old school during the day’s activities. Some restaurants and public places offered it but it didn’t seem widespread. Belgium seemed to be the best place for that. We did sign up for Verizon’s TravelPass before we left in case we did need service. Turns out we did in Ireland with a big snafu that required us to have phone availability so we turned it on for 5 days and it cost us $50—the cost of one month with T-Mobile’s lowest plan.

NEXT: Time to get going…. LONDON !!

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    Almost, bilbo, almost...


    My husband had access to the Admirals Club which we took advantage of in Philadelphia before our flight. When seats became available on the nonstop from Dublin for our return, there were no longer any available seats together. So we were scattered in different rows, nearby one another but all next to strangers. The receptionist at the club was able to switch our seats to the 4 middle seats in row 10. That alone was worth going to the club. And the free drinks, soups, crackers/cheese, cookies, brownies and a nice quiet area to relax were all icing on the cake.

    Our flight was uneventful, we were able to get maybe 3 or so total hours of sleep and we arrived at Heathrow on Sunday morning about 15 min early, around 8:45am. Immigration took less than 20 minutes. We had bought 30 day advance Heathrow Express tickets at £14.30 for each adult, kids free. It was a quick and easy ride to Paddington (no one looked at or collected our train tickets) where we got our oyster cards and loaded them up with £15 each to cover our travel for the duration of our stay. Then we hopped on the tube to Kings Cross which was near our hotel. For luggage, we each had a carry on roller and a daypack. We had considered taking the underground to KC which would have taken just over an hour. I’ve done it before and it feels endless. In the end, the extra £7 total was worth the 20 to 30 min time savings.

    As others have talked about on the forums, figuring out the most cost effective means of getting around and visiting attractions in London seems to involve intricate spreadsheets. Getting into the city from Heathrow, the PAYG oyster card vs the travelcard; are the 2for1 vouchers worth it for a family of 4 since most attractions have a family rate that often isn’t much more than 2 adult tickets. I read threads here, on tripadvisor, on some other site about the 2for1 and the best way take advantage. You need to figure out what you want to visit each day and then do the cost analysis. We used the travelcard and 2 for 1 on the second day and it saved us £45. The other days we used PAYG oyster cards as the savings didn’t offset the extra cost of a paper rail ticket.

    I also want to note up front that London attractions are not cheap. The museums are free, which is great, but everything else seems to cost an arm and a leg. We would have liked to have visited the British Museum but didn't have the time and it was below other attractions on the kids' lists.

    We stayed at the Premier Inn St Pancras on Euston Road just a block down the road from St. Pancras and Kings Cross station. When we made the reservation, we thought we’d be arriving at Euston Station on the train from Manchester. Then we were leaving on the Eurostar from St. Pancras. So the location was perfect. Even with the change in arrival, we still found the hotel convenient. It is a new hotel and it was clean and comfortable. We had a family room with a queen bed and 2 small twins (probably not as wide as a normal twin). While the room wasn’t huge, it was sufficient for the 4 of us to access our bags and we didn’t feel on top of each other. The best feature was how silent the room was. We were on the first floor overlooking busy Euston Road and heard zero street noise. We arrived at the hotel, stored our luggage with them which took time as it seemed to be a popular time of people coming and going doing the same thing. We finally headed out to find lunch and start enjoying the city.

    I gave input on what they might enjoy, but had the kids determine what they wanted to visit in London and Paris and tried to fit as much of it in as I could. My son is a big soccer fan, plays FIFA on Xbox, knows all the players, follows the premier league and UEFA champions league. So the number one thing on his list was going to a football stadium. Since we had our bonus day in London, we decided to go. Arsenal is only a 6 min tube ride from Kings Cross so it would be a quick and easy thing to do, especially with jetlag. They offer a self guided audio tour where you visit the locker rooms, the player’s tunnel, pitchside and dugout, press room as well as sit in the stadium seats. It was perfect. A few weeks before our departure, I looked up to confirm the tour details and a small window popped up saying from mid-May to mid-Aug they would be working on regenerating the pitch and the locker rooms, tunnel, pitchside, dugouts would be inaccessible—basically the whole tour! So Arsenal was now out and our only other choice was Chelsea, his least favorite team. I left it up to him and he decided he still wanted to go. It meant traveling 30 min back across London by tube to get to Stamford Bridge stadium. They have a similar tour to Arsenal but there is a tour guide and the tours leave every 30 min. If booked online, you get a significant savings and when doing so you had to choose a time. We arrived about 40 min before our scheduled time hoping to get on the earlier tour, but they were full so we had to wait. We killed time in the museum that had some interactive activities, video clips, trophies and paraphernalia. My son really enjoyed the tour so I’m glad we did it. Compared to facilities in the US, even college facilities, I was surprised at the spartan locker rooms and shower facilities, especially for the visiting team. The guide said that it is considered one of the better visiting locker rooms too! Basically a bench around the perimeter of a room with hooks above spaced about 2 feet apart. They will be tearing down the 100+ year old stadium for a new, bigger one soon so we can say we saw a piece of history.

    It was now about 3pm. We hopped back on the tube to Westminster to enjoy all the sights there—Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, London Eye, promenade along the river. It is such a spectacular sight to walk out of the tube station, look up and see Big Ben and the HoP looming over you. It is so iconic it almost doesn’t feel real. The kids were awed. They loved that the red telephone booths are still around even though no one uses pay phones anymore.

    We wandered over to Westminster Abbey and checked out the exterior but neither kid was interested in going inside. From there we walked along St James Park to Trafalgar Square. We would have liked to see the Churchill War Rooms but with jetlag settling in we didn’t know if we’d be able to enjoy it enough to justify the cost. There was a line outside to get in too.

    We checked out the lions at Trafalgar Square where there was a live performance of some sort in the center. From there we headed to Covent Garden. Walking around, taking in the city really helped to keep us alert and awake but fatigue was starting to hit. We had dinner at a fish and chips place near Covent Garden and my easygoing son started to go downhill quickly. I figured my moodier daughter would have a harder time but she was a complete trooper.

    After dinner we did another lap around the Covent Garden area and watched some street performers as my husband ran off to see if he could find a pub from his younger years. Then we headed to the Covent Garden tube stop with its 200 spiral steps going down to the tracks. I’m surprised none of us passed out from dizziness.

    Back at the hotel we cleaned up and passed out. I think we were all out cold by 8 and slept a glorious 12+ hours. In the end, I was so thankful we had this extra day to deal with jetlag and I felt like the kids got a good feel for the city. They were quickly falling in love with it.


    NEXT: ST. PAULS; GLOBE THEATER; HAMPTON COURT PALACE; LONDON EYE; RIVER CRUISE

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    The elevators were working but it was crowded and dear ole dad remembered the stairs from his younger years and wanted to go down that way.

    We climbed up and down a lot of staircases this trip. Unfortunately my thigh muscles didnt seem to get as ripped as they should have with all the climbing. I guess the beer offset that benefit!

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    I tried to post a reply but for some reason it would't post - I think Louise had a similar problem.

    Anyway what I was trying to say was that I admired your persistence with getting your airline seats and enjoyed the start of the trip [report].

    keep it coming!

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    Louis, can't wait to read yours. Annhig, the AA website and I developed a very close relationship!

    Here is the next day...

    Monday was our only full day in London. With such limited time, I really debated whether a trip out to Hampton Court Palace would be worth it and even asked Fodorites how much time it would take. I thought my kids would love it. The three of us watched the documentary on the palace and King Henry VIII on Netflix and, while it is a decent documentary, they felt like they were sitting through a history class. At the time they were a bit lukewarm on visiting but I decided to put it on the itinerary anyway. Not long before we left, my son overheard me talking to someone about it and he said, “Are we still planning to go to that place?” Then I really started second guessing it. I just didn’t know if our time would be better spent staying in the city and seeing a couple more sites there. In the end, I left the decision up to the family and they decided we should go for it and it was the absolute best decision. The kids consider it one of the highlights of the trip.

    We woke up Monday morning to rain. Not the light, drizzly kind but the pouring kind. But when you only have a couple days to see things, you grab your raincoat, umbrella and waterproof shoes, and just don’t let it bother you. There was a Pret a Manger on the corner of our hotel which was perfect to grab a quick pastry or sandwich and coffee for breakfast which we did both mornings.

    Since we were going out to the palace in zone 6, it made sense to buy the paper travelcard from the rail station. The oyster cap for zone 1-6 is £11.80 and the travelcard is £12.10 plus the kids were half off at £6.05 each (which was not very clear when researching this beforehand) making the travelcard cheaper. Plus, we got to use the 2for1 vouchers at all the attractions we visited that day and had printed them out prior to leaving home. It was an easy process at each attraction, we just gave the two vouchers to the ticket agent, showed our travelcard and paid for two adult tickets for the 4 of us. As mentioned above, sometimes this only saved us £2-3 since the family price is low but it was really worth it at the London Eye.

    Silly me had assumed we’d be hitting the tube prior to 9:30 so our off peak travelcards would not work. Therefore, I planned on having an additional £2.40 on our oyster cards for that single ride. But, with only one bathroom, getting 4 people out the door is not a quick process and we didn’t leave our hotel until close to 9:30. At Kings Cross train station, we went to the ticket booth and quickly got our travel cards. We stopped to look at people posing at platform 9 ¾ with the luggage cart loaded with Harry’s things halfway through the brick. They give the people a Gryffindor scarf and wand to use as they are posing.

    We hopped on the tube and headed for St. Paul’s Cathedral (vouchers saved us £3). The kids were really intrigued by the Whispering Gallery and thought climbing the domes would be fun. The church opens at 8:30 but the domes don’t open until 9:30. We walked around the outside looking for the correct entrance and I noticed a large group of young school boys congregating at another entrance and I figured, great, we are going to be there with school groups running around. There was no line at the entrance when we arrived and just a few people scattered throughout the cathedral. After the initial ogle of such an awe inspiring place, we headed for the domes. These 528 steps were the first of many, many sets of stairs on this trip.

    The whispering gallery is very cool. At first it didn’t seem to be working for us and a lady suggested I move a few feet to the left and I could hear my husband like he was standing next to me and not across the large dome. Fans of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ should know that the kids had to say the phrases “pu pu platter” and “booger”. We then climbed up to the two other levels where you can go outside and walk around the perimeter taking in the views of the city. Of course, it was still raining and was much windier up there, but that didn’t stop us. Despite the rain and poor conditions, the views were still pretty spectacular. As a note, pay attention to which staircase to use for going up and down. It is clearly marked but as we started down from the third level, a crew of teens was coming up the tiny spiral staircase. The worker at the top would not give them access to outside and made them walk back down-not fun after climbing all those steps.

    After we descended, we wandered around and enjoyed the church. All of the sudden, we heard the sounds of a young choir filling the church coming from the crypt. That group of school boys was actually a young choir coming to rehearse. It was beautiful.

    From the cathedral, we walked south across Millennium Bridge to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Surprising to me, the Globe was high on both kids’ lists. They offer 30 min tours every half hour. We used our vouchers (£11 savings) and waited about 10 minutes for the next tour. The tours are given by the actors in the company and ours was very funny and entertaining. Workers were busy building the set for the Taming of the Shrew that evening. We all really enjoyed the tour. It was fascinating to learn more about what life was like during that time. They also have a great little gift shop with some unique items.

    It was now time to make our way to Waterloo Station, about a mile walk, mostly along the river. The rain was down to a light drizzle by now. We needed to grab some lunch on the way. These days, kids like to watch YouTube videos of other people playing video games. I don’t get it, but everyone seems to do it. My son follows a few people in the UK who play FIFA online with their buddies and record it. I have to say, the few I’ve heard, they are very humorous with that great British humor. Anyway, they all talk about Nandos so my son had to eat there. It is a fast food-ish place that serves spicy grilled chicken. It is a chain from South Africa. They have outlets all over London and we passed one on the way to the station so stopped to grab a quick bite. I found the chicken on the bone to be very good but the chicken breast sandwich was a bit dry. They offer spicy mayonnaise for the fries so that was a big plus for me. My husband liked the hand washing station right next to the drink station. Needless to day, both kids loved it.

    Taking the train to HCP from Waterloo, there are two trains an hour that are direct and two trains that leave 6 min later and require a change at Surbiton station. The train that goes to Surbiton is an express and you transfer onto the direct train that left Waterloo 6 min prior. It takes a total of 30 min to get the HCP station. We just made the Surbiton train, otherwise it would have cost us 30 min. My son noted that Surbiton station is the one used in the opening scenes of Harry Potter and Half Blood Prince.

    The rain had finally let up by now and it was a quick walk to the Palace from the train station. We used vouchers (£2.50 savings) and enjoyed the palace for about 3 ½ hours. The place is huge so I assume it handles crowds well but it felt like we had the place almost to ourselves. My kids liked the Tudor side better than the William III side. Watching the documentary beforehand added to their enjoyment of the palace and they were telling my husband little tidbits along the way (he hasn’t seen it yet). The tennis court was being used by two players, one recognizable by his picture on the wall as some sort of champion of that style of tennis. The gardens are out of this world and the maze was a definite highlight. That maze is no joke. You really get turned around quickly. The kids made it to the center much faster than my husband and me. We were almost there and I saw a sign that said Maze with an arrow and thought I was back at the entrance so turned around. Turns out I was almost to the center. So that cost me 5-10 min. I could hear my son laughing at me from the center but couldn't find them!

    We headed back to the station and stayed on the direct train to Waterloo. We could have saved 2 min by transferring at Surbiton but it was nice to just sit in one place for a bit. My son has loved trains since he was a toddler and he loved riding on the trains. As he is getting older, it is nice to see glimpses of the little boy still in him.

    By the time we were back in the city, the skies were clear and bright blue. We took the short walk over to the London Eye. The Eye was the one non-negotiable thing the kids wanted to do, even if it was poor weather. Thankfully, we could not have had better weather for it. The London Eye website gave me a headache with all of its ticket choices and feeling like I had to pick a 30 min window or pay through the nose to be able to go whenever we wanted. Deep in the FAQs you find out that if you just show up when you want, the tickets are £24.95, just slightly more than the lowest price ticket locking you into a time. They take the 2for1 vouchers at this price and when you get the vouchers you can book a time if you want through the daysoutguide site. Since we didn’t know our timing, we didn’t do this and decided to just wing it. If we didn’t use the vouchers, we probably would have purchased the Eye+River Cruise package where you pick the cruise time and can go up the Eye anytime that day. That seemed the best deal for flexibility at £93.60 for the 4 of us.

    I can’t remember what time we arrived, about 5:30 or 6, and we waited about 20 min to buy the tickets. The line to pick up prepaid tickets seemed almost as long but it probably moved faster. At the line to get on the Eye, a large school group was about to enter and the attendant was trying to get them to line up so he could get a count. We ran up and asked if we could jump in line while he did this and he let us in. Otherwise we would have been behind another 50 people. That line moved fast and we were on a car in less than 10 minutes. The ride is nice, the views are wonderful, the cars are large and you have plenty of room to move around. Is it worth the high cost? Hard to say since it costs a lot to go up the other tall buildings to get similar views. My son, who had been so excited, thought it was overrated. My daughter and husband really enjoyed it though. I guess I’d consider it something to do once.

    Once off the Eye, we had 10 min until the next river cruise departed. We ran over to the pier, used our vouchers which the attendant didn’t know how to use and it took some time and help from another attendant to get it sorted. We made it on the boat with just a couple minutes to spare. The vouchers at the Eye and Cruise saved us £17 over the package I mentioned above, but £76 at face value, and we had the ultimate in flexibility. All of us really enjoyed the cruise. The guide was great, humorous and full of little anecdotes-lots of color commentary. It was nice to sit, relax for 40 min and take in the sights. This is the only time we saw Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The kids weren’t interested enough in the Tower to add to their list and the Bridge would have been something we checked out if we hadn’t gone to HCP.

    After the cruise, we walked across the bridge to Westminster again to take in Big Ben and HoP one last time and then headed back to Kings Cross on the underground. I knew that England was playing Slovakia that night at 8pm in the Euro Cup but didn’t put two and two together that it would mean all the pubs would be PACKED full. So my idea of a nice dinner with some pints at a pub near our hotel was dashed. We ended up going to Pizza Express which, despite its name, is a fairly nice pizza joint with good thin crust pizzas and a great selection of interesting toppings. They had nice cold beer so I was happy (but sad we didn't make it to a pub this trip.)

    It was a great, full day but we never felt like we were overdoing it. I felt like everything we did was varied and unique. This day turned out to be the favorite day of the whole trip for both kids.


    NEXT: Jogging alongside the Guard and the Eiffel Tower!

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    Sounds like a great day, lolfn, and brilliantly planned. I love that you knew you could save 2 minutes at Surbiton! have you thought of making travel planning your full-time job?

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    I definitely did a lot of planning for London and Paris because I knew they were quick hits with lots of options and logistics to figure out. But, I must admit, everything went so smoothly thanks to the planning that our day felt fairly relaxed. We slowed down a lot in Belgium, even forgoing some of the things we had planned to do in order to relax a bit more.

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    Just a footnote about surprisingly spartan locker rooms in the football stadium: I happened to see a mention in my paper the other day of a club (in a lower league, admittedly) where the room and water heating in the visitors' changing room was known to malfunction for important matches.......

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    Patrick, the guide said as much, the visitor's facilities are spartan for a reason.

    Chelsea's locker room actually had lockers--a tall box with their picture on the door--but not as large or nice as you'd expect. There was only one ice bath and one, maybe two, trainers table which was surprising. Small shower room too. I know they train at a different facility but would expect the need for more than that after matches.

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    Tuesday morning, we packed up our stuff that morning and stowed it with the hotel. As far as packing goes, I was late to game on this, but once I figured it out, it was a life changer. We each have and are responsible for our own bag. The kids must pack, organize and carry their own bags. We used to share larger suitcases and I hated how someone would rummage through the whole thing looking for something and everything would become a jumbled mess that I would end up having to sort out. Now, everyone has a packing list and packs their own stuff off that. Everything you bring must fit in a carry on and day pack. At each stop, the kids have to stay on top of their own things. My daughter is an organization pro. My son, not so much. He opened the expander of his bag as soon as he repacked in London all because he was too lazy to fold his clothes properly. But it was no longer my problem. Years ago I bought large space bags for some attic storage and the pack came with “packing” space bags. They were probably about 3 gallon size. We each used one of those instead of large ziplocs for dirty clothes and rolled them to push out the air and then they lay flat and small. It was really helpful to keep dirty clothes separate and for when we had to do laundry. Anyway, that’s my tip of the day!

    My daughter wanted to see things related to the Royals and some pomp and pageantry. We didn’t want to waste hours crammed in at Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guards. There are tours you can take that take you to everywhere the Guards are except for the Palace. We chose the Fun London Tour and met them at Piccadilly Circus at 10:15. Augusta was our tour guide and she was fabulous. She was intent on getting the group to the prime front row spots and kept us moving to keep up with everything. In addition, she was a wealth of information on the Guard and Royals and other interesting tidbits. She befriended a former Guard a few years ago and peppered him with questions for insider information. We had front row spots at St. James’ Palace where the new guard comes out, does its little routine (the squiggly side shuffle is cool). The band joins them and then they march out to the Mall and down the street. At the perfect moment so as not too early you are stopped by security or too late that you get behind others, Augusta told us to MOVE and we were able to cross over the Mall and jog alongside of them toward Buckingham Palace. I looked back along the wide sidewalk at one point and saw at least a dozen tour guides scurrying along holding their little flag in the air as their people were trailing the Guard down the street, it was pretty funny. She took us over to the barracks to watch the Guard from there depart for the Palace and eventually the retired Guard return. And then we went to one last place for more Guard marching. We definitely got our fill of seeing the red suited guys with the awesome bear skinned hats. My daughter loved it and it was much more fun for the kids than just standing staring at shoulder blades trying to see through the gates of the palace.

    But now we were stuck surrounded by a jillion people who had been standing at the Palace for the event. My daughter wanted to see the Royal Mews and it was a real challenge trying to get over to that side of the Palace. Just crowds everywhere. I can’t imagine it in the real height of tourist season. We eventually made it and she loved seeing the beautiful carriages especially the golden one that is truly spectacular.

    By now, the crowds were gone and we were able to get a closer look at Buckingham Palace. It was closing in on 1pm and we had a 3:30 Eurostar to catch to Paris. We walked across a quiet Green Park to the station and went back to Kings Cross.

    Since we were done with our oyster cards, we stopped at the machine to get the refund on our £5 deposit plus any monies remaining which turned out to be around £5 each since we didn’t need to use it for a single ride the day before and we didn’t hit the cap today. I don’t know how I expected to receive the refund but was definitely surprised. We ended up getting a total of about £40 back and it was all coins. The machine dispensed one £5 note and the rest in coins. So many coins! Not just £1 or £2 coins, but coins of all sorts-50p, 10p, 20p. They just kept falling, it was like we hit the jackpot at a slot machine. We scooped them out and threw them into a pouch and went out to find a quick lunch since they were recommending arriving at St. Pancras an hour ahead of time due to increased security.

    Since Nandos was such a crowd pleaser and there is one across the street from the station, off to Nandos we went. They seat you at a table with menus and when you are ready to order you go up to the cashier to place your order with your table number. We sat down and started organizing and stacking the coins. I felt like I was a poor college student again scrounging up and counting any loose change. I had another pound or two in coins I brought with us from a previous trip so we had about £42 total. (We never had the need for cash in London so never got any from the ATM). We took our stacks to the cashier, placed our order and it came to £41.20. It was meant to be!

    We collected our bags from the hotel, walked the short walk to St. Pancras, picked up some food and drinks for the train at the M&S across from where you enter security. In the waiting room, I purchased a carnet of metro tickets at the information desk. You pay a premium of probably about $5 but it was worth it to not have to worry about dealing with it at Gare du Nord. They called our platform and we were off.

    London was the perfect entry into Europe for the kids. With our limited time, we were happy with our choice of things to do and don’t have any regrets on the trade-offs (well, maybe missing the War Rooms.) I spent most of my time in London back in the late 80s and it was definitely more gritty then. I remember when I lived in Asia one of my friends worked for a British investment bank in Hong Kong and travelled to London frequently in the mid 90s. He always complained that is was like third world country with a crumbling infrastructure. If that was true, it is no more. It felt all cleaned up and is such an easy city to navigate.


    NOW, OFF TO PARIS…

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    Just a footnote about surprisingly spartan locker rooms in the football stadium: I happened to see a mention in my paper the other day of a club (in a lower league, admittedly) where the room and water heating in the visitors' changing room was known to malfunction for important matches.......>>

    Patrick - I am reliably informed that the visitors' dressing rooms at our local rugby club are beyond description. And not in a good way.

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    He always complained that is was like third world country with a crumbling infrastructure. If that was true, it is no more. It felt all cleaned up and is such an easy city to navigate.>>

    lolfn - I'm enjoying your description of your trip but my experience of visiting London recently was rather different. I worked there from about 1979 - 1997 and I found it a friendly less hectic place then compared to how it is now - and the skyline is irreparably changed [and IMO not in a good way]. And the crowds! I used to love arriving at Victoria station every morning but no longer.

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    The Eurostar trip was uneventful other than the A/C in our carriage didn’t seem to be working and it was very warm. Every now and then, you’d feel a breath of air like it was finally kicking in and then back to warm. A walk through the train indicated that a handful of carriages had properly working A/C but not all. It seemed a third to a half the toilets or their sinks were out of order. But what both my husband and I marveled at were the number of people who were treating the trip like a long haul overnight train ride. A good number were sacked out cold with pillows and neck rolls, shoes off and others were loaded up with enough food and drink for a week. It is a 2 ½ hour trip and it was the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. I found it funny.

    We arrived at Gare du Nord on time at just before 7pm. We jumped on the Metro M4 line from the station to Les Halles and had about a 10 min walk to our accommodations. We walked down one street lined with sidewalk cafes below lovely french buildings. It was so quintessentially Paris that I honestly felt like we were somewhere like Universal Studios walking on the “Paris Street” set. There was a music festival for the summer solstice going on in the city that evening so live bands were set up in different areas.

    A former coworker/friend of mine is French and runs his own company. He spends a lot of time in Africa with the company and has a small apartment in Paris that he uses when he needs to be in town (plus a real home outside the city as he hates Paris.) Since I wasn’t finding many hotel rooms that slept 4 and reserving 2 doubles was really getting expensive, I contacted him to see if he had any ideas. He offered us his apartment. It is in the 1st, near the Louvre. It has one bedroom with a queen bed and the living room has a sectional couch that was essentially two twin sized beds put together as an L. We felt very fortunate. The plan was for his assistant to let us into the apartment, set us up with keys and get us oriented. We arrived at the apartment building at 7:30, buzzed up and no answer. Luckily, my husband was able to access a public wifi and we saw an email from her that she had been delayed and was on her way. She arrived about 20 min later and we spent a bit of time getting settled into the apartment.

    The kids’ one non-negotiable for Paris was going to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Apparently, if someone finds out you went to Paris they will ask you if you went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and you look like a fool if you didn’t. At least in middle school world. We had a choice to do it tonight or first thing Thursday morning. I was unsure how the Euro Cup fan zone on the Champ du Mars would affect the tower but knew that this evening was probably our best opportunity to do it so we did.

    We headed off on the M1 to the FDR station and transferred to the M9 to the Trocadero so we could give the kids the money shot of the tower as you walk up the stairs of the Trocadero. The 6pm Euro Cup game between Germany and Northern Ireland had recently ended and the metro was flooded with fans. The Germans were in white jerseys and the Irish in green. I took the following video as we were exiting.

    www.instagram.com/lolfn1704/

    In case it isn’t obvious, the Germans had won 1-0 but the Irish know how to have fun anyway. If anyone knows what they were chanting, I’d love to know. I kept hearing that same chant or tune from the stands when watching the games on TV.

    We emerged from the metro and walked over to the stairs to head up and see the Eiffel Tower. The kids were wowed by the tower but a bit horrified by the mass of football fans all over the area. We walked down the stairs toward the river and there were hawkers everywhere selling their trinkets and bottles of beer for €1 each.

    Security was tight for the tower which I appreciated. We were patted down, bags checked multiple times and we were ‘wanded’. Once through security we felt like we were in a large empty square. There weren’t many people there at all which was unexpected even though it was getting late. There was a line that snaked a bit for elevator tickets. The kids wanted to do the stairs so we headed to that corner, purchased our tickets at 9:25pm (€24 total), and headed straight up with no wait. 674 steps up to the second level. And it really was not bad at all. St. Paul’s seemed more tiring. They must have the perfect rise/width ratio or something. We stopped at the first level and did a lap around the perimeter before heading to the second level for another lap. The fan zone was all lit up and filled with people. The screens were facing away from the tower so you couldn’t see those. But while on the tower we heard the crowd erupt twice as two goals were scored. I had been pretty bummed out when I heard about the fan zone but it actually was quite cool to have it there. Especially at night since it was all lit up.

    We purchased our tickets to get to the top (another €24 total) and got in line for the elevator. On our walk around the perimeter we noticed two lines that approached the elevator from opposite sides. Unfortunately, we chose unwisely and ended up in the longer line. We waited about 10 minutes and headed straight up which I imagine would be terrifying for those scared of heights. We were up top at 10:05. Sunset was at 9:58 and the views were really nice. It was cool to see the city change as the sun went down and the building lit up. There were a number of people on the summit but you never had to wait more than a couple minutes to get up to the fencing for a view. Having learned our lesson, we chose the short line with no wait for the descent to the second level and then had another 5-10 min wait for the elevator to the bottom.

    We walked back up the Trocadero. The Irish had learned they were one of the 4 third place teams to make it through to the second round so now were singing “We’re not going home” to the same tune as before. The gate to the metro entrance we departed was shut tight and we had a slight panic wondering if they had shut down the metro. But with a walk around the area toward the restaurants, we found an open entrance and took the metro back to the apartment happy to crash for the night.

    From Buckingham Palace to the Eiffel Tower, it had been a long day but we all enjoyed it. And the kids had loved going up the Eiffel Tower.


    NEXT: Walking Paris-Our Most Exhausting Day

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    If anyone knows what they were chanting, I’d love to know. I kept hearing that same chant or tune from the stands when watching the games on TV.>>

    lolfn - i tried to make it out but couldn't pick out any of the words; it's not any of the songs I could find on the internet either.

    I am so impressed with you fitting all that into one day plus climbing the Eiffel Tower - superb!

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    I'm back after a relaxing but hot weekend.

    annhig, I also tried to find the chant online and couldn't but it was definitely a popular tune to sing to during the Euro Cup this year.

    Onward with Paris...


    Today was our only full day in Paris and we took full advantage. My feet are hurting just thinking about this day.

    My husband and I purchased the 2 day museum pass at €48 each (kids were free). The five places that were on our must do list were covered by the pass. If we had purchased tickets to each it would have cost us €52 each. So the Pass saved us money. Plus, we now were able to pop into 3 other museums to look at one or two things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise since it wouldn’t have been worth the admission. And, thirdly, the separate fast pass and security lines really made a difference at some places. So for our purposes, the museum pass was very much worth it.

    After the late night, we let the kids sleep in a bit and my husband and I snuck out to a great boulangerie down the street from the apartment to grab breakfast. Nothing better than fresh French pastries! When we returned with the goodies to the apartment, we opened the windows and the cacophony of the street noise came flooding in, jolting the kids awake. I hadn’t realized how quiet the place was with the windows closed. Oops, sorry kids! They rallied and we were out the door around 9:15.

    Our first stop was to be Saint-Chappelle and its stained glass windows. We walked toward the Ile de la Cite stopping at a BNP Paribas for cash since their partnership with Bank of America meant no ATM fees. It was a warm and sunny morning and would get up to about 85/29 both days so definitely our hottest days of the trip. Crossing the Pont au Change we marveled at the architecture of the Conciergerie. We still needed to purchase our museum passes so we stopped at the Conciergerie as we passed it figuring it would be easier than doing it at Ste Chappelle which would have more crowds. It was an easy transaction and since we were already there and no one else was, we decided to take 10-15 minutes to wander through and see the prisoner rooms and Marie Antoinette’s cell. The architecture of the building is the best part, otherwise it is mostly a large empty building.

    We then headed down the block to Saint-Chappelle which was a must do as neither my husband nor I had been before on previous trips. There was a very long line to purchase tickets/ go through security so we were glad we stopped to buy the passes elsewhere. The pass holders had a separate entrance/security and we were inside quickly. We glanced around the first floor with its painted blue ceiling and then headed upstairs to the showstopper and it literally stops you in your tracks. The windows are incredible. It wasn’t terribly crowded yet and we were able to sit for a bit and take it all in. My daughter was entranced by it.

    Next, we walked down the street to Notre Dame. We had already decided it wasn’t worth our limited time to wait in line to climb up the towers. There was a pretty large crowd congregated on the plaza in front of the church. Today, we saw a lot of Austrian fans out and about wearing their red jerseys, carrying large Austrian flags, and the flag painted on their cheeks. Sadly, I believe they lost their game later in the day. We did go inside the cathedral, which is free, and really enjoyed wandering around. We then walked around the back side checking out the flying buttresses. There was a band playing on a little stage in the park behind the cathedral and they were playing nothing but Disney songs.

    We walked over the bridge and had a wander around Saint Louis which was quaint but very quiet. Maybe we were too early in the day, but there didn’t seem to be much activity. Then we walked along the river, crossed back over it and headed straight for BHV. We are big DIYers, and after hearing so much about it, I wanted to see the famous basement. It was like an upscale Lowes/Home Depot. The window locks made me wish we had the types of windows that used them just so I could buy them. The little street number tiles and small door signs were great. The kids dragged my husband and me away and we went up to the 5th floor café to see if the food looked good for the kids’ lunch. Because they were hungry and wanted to eat then, my son ended up getting roast chicken and potatoes and my daughter got a large piece of pizza. Neither was thrilled with the food but it was nice to sit near the windows overlooking the rooftops.

    When people heard we were going to Paris, almost everyone told us we had to have falafel in Le Marais and go to Musee d’Orsay. At the Royal Mews in London, we stopped to ask an attendant about the closest tube stop and she chatted with us a bit about our trip. Even that girl, who actually was Canadian, told us she would be remiss if she didn’t tell us to go to the falafel place and the museum. So we had to try the falafel and chose to go to the most talked about one, L’As du Fallafel. You can get take away at a window or sit inside. We chose to sit inside and waited a few minutes for a table. Since the kids were still hungry, we got a big plate of healthy fries while we waited for our food. I got the standard falafel in pita, my husband got the chicken schwrama and a side of falafel. I don’t eat falafel often and thought it was good. My husband had been on a recent kick of eating it often because there is a great place near his office in NYC. He thought it was good but he didn’t think it was the best he’d ever had. But the sandwiches were huge and we left stuffed and satisfied.

    We wandered through Le Marais taking in the neighborhood. When we passed Berthillon on Saint Louis we told the kids we would go back after lunch. So we zig zagged our way through Le Marais back toward the river. As we approached the bridge and were waiting for the light to change, a sweet little old man approached us and asked us in broken English if we were American. We told him we were and he said that the best ice cream in Paris was just ahead at Berthillon. We laughed and said that was exactly where we were headed. We arrived ahead of him and as he entered the store he was surprised we had gotten there so quickly. We each got a cone at the street side counter. I am not much of a sweets person so I loved the petite portions they give you. It is the perfect size to satisfy a sweet tooth and not be too much. My kids thought otherwise. The man was leaving as we were and we asked what he purchased. He proudly showed us his bag of 4 pints of different flavors.

    Next stop, the Pantheon, a ¾ mile walk through the Latin Quarter. We loved the Pantheon, partly because it was very cool inside and it had gotten hot and sticky outside and there was some uphill walking to get there. We flashed our passes to get in and there weren’t many people there. The building is absolutely gorgeous and my son and I spent a lot of time sitting on a bench and staring up at all the details. I grew up in the DC area and loved going downtown to the American History museum because they had the large Foucoult pendulum in the entry hall with the Star Spangled Banner flag behind it. I remember staring endlessly at the pendulum ball swinging back and forth getting closer and closer to the next peg. A few years ago, I took the kids to the museum and was so sad that the pendulum is no longer there. Now there is an exhibit on the flag which they had to create to better protect it from the elements. It is a terrific exhibit but I missed the pendulum. So I was excited that the Pantheon has a Foucoult pendulum. It wasn’t as large as the one I remembered in DC but that could be a function of growing up and everything seems larger in memory? There were numbers based on the clock painted around the perimeter of the circle. But only 270 degrees around. So hour 24 was at the 9 o’clock position on the circle and 0 was up top at the 12 o’clock position. What happens at midnight to move it 90 degrees? Regardless, at 2:40 that afternoon, based on the painted numbers, it was keeping perfect time.

    We spent a lot of time at the Pantheon and then got our energy up to get going and headed over to Luxembourg Gardens which are beautiful. We watched the little kids pushing off their sailboat and squealing as it sailed around the water in front of the palace. The French really know how to dress their children and they were so adorable. No graphic tees and athletic shorts and flashy sneakers in sight. Just little smocked dresses or rompers or a cute cotton blouse and shorts with mary janes or sandals. We strolled through the gardens and headed in the direction of our apartment walking through the St. Germain area on the way back. That area had a more upscale vibe and was crowded with people enjoying the sidewalk cafes.

    We picked up some sandwiches, snacks and drinks at our local boulangerie and market before arriving back at the apartment. The last few days going full tilt were catching up with us and we needed to kick back and relax for a couple hours.

    NEXT: Evening at the Louvre and a Boat Cruise

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    After a few hours rest, we headed back out to the Louvre which is open late, until 9:45, on Wednesday evenings. We entered through the Carousel entrance down in the mall and waltzed right in. The lack of line was probably due to a combination of using an alternate entrance and going in the evening. The kids really just wanted to see the highlights, especially the Mona Lisa, so we noted where everything was on the map and headed off in what seemed like a logical order. Now, I have to admit that I’d have a hard time navigating my way out of a paper bag which causes frustration for my husband as he always wants to drive, therefore, I’m the navigator. My mind just doesn’t work well with maps and I don’t instinctively know my left and right. Once in Ireland, I exclaimed, “Kids look out to the right!” while I was looking out to the left. It is a crapshoot whether the correct word will come out. I pity the poor souls who ask me on the street for directions and always hope I got it right (I use lots of hand gestures in case that helps.) Please tell me I’m not the only one with this affliction. Anyway, the Louvre is not the easiest of places to navigate around even though it is clear there are 3 wings and all the rooms are numbered in order. But since it is such an old building that has been cobbled together over the years, there are lots of stairs up and down, and honestly, I don’t think the map is all that great. Somehow, I was the one with the map guiding us but my daughter quickly realized the issue and took over.

    We managed to maneuver our way through and see everything we wanted to see though it took a lot longer than we anticipated. We realized this was going to be the case early on and just enjoyed walking through the beautiful palace marveling that we were surrounded by such incredible art. On previous trips, I had never gone to Napoleon’s apartments and couldn’t believe the opulence. Completely over the top, yet magnificent. The museum felt empty until we got to the Denon wing which does house some of the most famous pieces. But even that didn’t feel crowded. As expected, the Mona Lisa room had the most people but was only about 2-3 people deep in front of the painting. So it didn’t take long to get up to the ropes to view it. The kids were very satisfied with the visit.

    Prior to leaving our apartment, I asked if everyone was up for doing a boat cruise after the Louvre. Everyone was, so I pre-purchased the tickets on my phone for a €2 discount each over buying at the pier. After leaving the Louvre, we strolled along the river to the Pont de Neuf and had to wait about 20 min for the next boat. I think it was the 8:30 boat. It would have been nice to have taken the 9:30 so that we’d do the return trip after sunset, but that would have meant getting to bed close to midnight again and we didn’t have it in us. The downside of racing through a city. We were first on board and we sat up in front of the boat. The guide did the commentary in french and then english. He was very perfunctory pointing out the interesting buildings with maybe a fact about each. He had no color commentary (at least in english, maybe he added more in french) like the guy did in London. Due to the previous flooding, the boat did not go around the islands so we didn’t see Notre Dame but instead went up to the little Statue of Liberty which is beyond the Eiffel Tower. The tour lasted an hour and afterwards, we headed home to bed.


    NEXT: Our last day in Paris and then off to Belgium!

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    lolfn, I am really enjoying your trip report, and I want to tell you that you are not alone in being directionally challenged. My daughter and I went to Williamsburg, VA, when she was 14, and that is when I found out that I will invariably go in the wrong direction and she almost never will.

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    Thank you carolyn for letting me know I'm not the only one! I could totally relate to Joey on Friends when they were in London and he put the map on the ground and stepped on it to figure out which direction to go. Hey, we can't be perfect at everything, right? :)

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    Thursday was our last day in Paris and we’d be leaving on the 3:40 train to Belgium. We got another great breakfast from the boulangerie and packed up our things so everything would be ready to go when we were. Originally, I envisioned walking through the Jardin des Tuileries to our first destination but that idea was met with stone cold stares. After walking 12 miles the day before, they were done. So we hopped the metro for the short ride to the Place de la Concorde. Due to the Euro Cup, they had kept the ferris wheel up. I think it is usually only up during the winter? A second ferris wheel had just been erected on the side of the gardens for the Fête des Tuileries, the fair opening in a couple days. I find ferris wheels lovely to look at but will never ride one, they’ve always made me nervous.

    We walked over to the Musee L’Orangerie, a bonus museum because we had the museum pass. We checked out the 6 large Monet waterlilies, 3 each displayed in a large oval room as he had intended. He wanted the viewer to feel like they were immersed in the landscape, surrounded by the meditative environment. I suppose this is heresy, but we were underwhelmed. Yes, the room was quiet and serene and the paintings are very large. I guess I expected to be more wowed, but what do I know?

    We walked over to the river and crossed it on the pedestrian bridge, Passerelle Solférino. A crew of about 20 men were removing those “love” padlocks one by one with large hand cutters and reciprocating saws. It looked like extremely tedious work.

    Next stop was the Musee d’Orsay. I had visited back in 1997 but my husband had never gone. There was quite a bit of a line but with the passes we bypassed it all. My son did have to check his day pack here as well as at Musee L’Orangerie. The kids had brought smaller drawsting backpacks to use daily to hold water, sunglasses, etc. But he preferred to carry his larger backpack. He didn’t have any issues with it the day before but we did witness someone denied access to the Pantheon because they said his normal sized pack was too big, though it was the same size as my son’s. As everyone says, Musee d’Orsay is an awesome museum. We spent quite a bit of time wandering through the galleries focusing mainly up on the 5th floor. Done with art, my son zipped through it quickly and happily spent most of his time looking through the massive clock and taking in the view from the terrace. My daughter surprised me having remembered a good bit from what little art history she has had.

    From here we walked over to the Rodin Museum grabbing a crepe as a snack along the way. I thought this museum was fantastic and wish we had had more time to spend there. It was another bonus stop because we had the museum pass and had just planned on checking out the Kiss and the Thinker. But I really enjoyed walking through the museum and strolling a bit through the garden. Maybe because it was getting to be midday, but this museum was more crowded than I expected it to be.

    Last on our attraction list was going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. My son, especially, was very excited and it didn’t disappoint. We took the metro over to the Arc and walked through the pedestrian tunnel under the road to get to it. There was quite a long line for tickets which we could bypass since it is included in the Pass. They also have a separate security line for Pass holders. I had read that the kids were free but would still need a paper ticket. That was not the case, we just said they were with us and we were waved through. For some reason, I expected some sort of holding area before you got to the staircase but you literally walk through security and whoosh, you’re funneled up the 284 steps to the top with not a second to realize it and catch your breath. The view is great. It was a bright, sunny day and it is very cool to be at the center hub with the 12 spokes of the avenues radiating outward. The intricate carvings on the outside of the arc are beautiful. I guess my daughter thought so too as I found a ton of photos of them that she had taken with my camera.

    As our time in Paris was coming to an end, we took the metro back to our neighborhood to have lunch at a restaurant near our apartment. We sat inside hoping for a bit of cool air as we were hot and sweaty. The restaurant had a meager A/C system but it was better than sitting in the heat. We went back to our apartment to gather our stuff and head to the train station.

    While I hate to say it, my son did not vibe on Paris at all. My daughter enjoyed it, not quite as much as London, but she liked seeing places that she has heard and read a lot about. She enjoyed the different neighborhoods and the food. But she is my practical, analytical kid. My son is a creative that flies by the seat of his pants. He goes a lot on gut feel and from the time he arrived in Paris, he wasn’t feeling it. The hordes of drunk Euro Cup fans that we saw the first night might have influenced him but he is standing by his view that Paris is a one and done city for him. He says he can’t imagine returning while he is talking about studying or living in London or Belgium when he gets older. I’ve encouraged him to give other parts of France a chance as I have enjoyed Dordogne and Provence much more than I enjoy Paris.


    NEXT: Train to Belgium - Sometimes the journey is not better than the destination

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    Thursday was our last day in Paris and we’d be leaving on the 3:40 train to Belgium. We got another great breakfast from the boulangerie and packed up our things so everything would be ready to go when we were. Originally, I envisioned walking through the Jardin des Tuileries to our first destination but that idea was met with stone cold stares. After walking 12 miles the day before, they were done. So we hopped the metro for the short ride to the Place de la Concorde. Due to the Euro Cup, they had kept the ferris wheel up. I think it is usually only up during the winter? A second ferris wheel had just been erected on the side of the gardens for the Fête des Tuileries, the fair opening in a couple days. I find ferris wheels lovely to look at but will never ride one, they’ve always made me nervous.

    We walked over to the Musee L’Orangerie, a bonus museum because we had the museum pass. We checked out the 6 large Monet waterlilies, 3 each displayed in a large oval room as he had intended. He wanted the viewer to feel like they were immersed in the landscape, surrounded by the meditative environment. I suppose this is heresy, but we were underwhelmed. Yes, the room was quiet and serene and the paintings are very large. I guess I expected to be more wowed, but what do I know?

    We walked over to the river and crossed it on the pedestrian bridge, Passerelle Solférino. A crew of about 20 men were removing those “love” padlocks one by one with large hand cutters and reciprocating saws. It looked like extremely tedious work.

    Next stop was the Musee d’Orsay. I had visited back in 1997 but my husband had never gone. There was quite a bit of a line but with the passes we bypassed it all. My son did have to check his day pack here as well as at Musee L’Orangerie. The kids had brought smaller drawsting backpacks to use daily to hold water, sunglasses, etc. But he preferred to carry his larger backpack. He didn’t have any issues with it the day before but we did witness someone denied access to the Pantheon because they said his normal sized pack was too big, though it was the same size as my son’s. As everyone says, Musee d’Orsay is an awesome museum. We spent quite a bit of time wandering through the galleries focusing mainly up on the 5th floor. Done with art, my son zipped through it quickly and happily spent most of his time looking through the massive clock and taking in the view from the terrace. My daughter surprised me having remembered a good bit from what little art history she has had.

    From here we walked over to the Rodin Museum grabbing a crepe as a snack along the way. I thought this museum was fantastic and wish we had had more time to spend there. It was another bonus stop because we had the museum pass and had just planned on checking out the Kiss and the Thinker. But I really enjoyed walking through the museum and strolling a bit through the garden. Maybe because it was getting to be midday, but this museum was more crowded than I expected it to be.

    Last on our attraction list was going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. My son, especially, was very excited and it didn’t disappoint. We took the metro over to the Arc and walked through the pedestrian tunnel under the road to get to it. There was quite a long line for tickets which we could bypass since it is included in the Pass. They also have a separate security line for Pass holders. I had read that the kids were free but would still need a paper ticket. That was not the case, we just said they were with us and we were waved through. For some reason, I expected some sort of holding area before you got to the staircase but you literally walk through security and whoosh, you’re funneled up the 284 steps to the top with not a second to realize it and catch your breath. The view is great. It was a bright, sunny day and it is very cool to be at the center hub with the 12 spokes of the avenues radiating outward. The intricate carvings on the outside of the arc are beautiful. I guess my daughter thought so too as I found a ton of photos of them that she had taken with my camera.

    As our time in Paris was coming to an end, we took the metro back to our neighborhood to have lunch at a restaurant near our apartment. We sat inside hoping for a bit of cool air as we were hot and sweaty. The restaurant had a meager A/C system but it was better than sitting in the heat. We went back to our apartment to gather our stuff and head to the train station.

    While I hate to say it, my son did not vibe on Paris at all. My daughter enjoyed it, not quite as much as London, but she liked seeing places that she has heard and read a lot about. She enjoyed the different neighborhoods and the food. But she is my practical, analytical kid. My son is a creative that flies by the seat of his pants. He goes a lot on gut feel and from the time he arrived in Paris, he wasn’t feeling it. The hordes of drunk Euro Cup fans that we saw the first night might have influenced him but he is standing by his view that Paris is a one and done city for him. He says he can’t imagine returning while he is talking about studying or living in London or Belgium when he gets older. I’ve encouraged him to give other parts of France a chance as I have enjoyed Dordogne and Provence much more than I enjoy Paris.


    NEXT: Train to Belgium - Sometimes the journey is not better than the destination

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    Still enjoying your trip. I was underwhelmed by Paris, and it took me 36 years to go back and then I enjoyed it immensely (though London is still my favorite, followed by Amsterdam).

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    I keep being thrown by your timings, to Europeans 3:40 is pretty early, great story telling BTW>>

    lol, yes I had to look at that twice too!

    DH and I can never get enough of Paris but our kids, having been taken once by us about 15 years ago, show no desire to go back. Given they neither of them like oysters either I sometimes wonder whether they were swapped at birth!

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    Sorry about the double post above, I don't know how that happened.

    I keep being thrown by your timings, to Europeans 3:40 is pretty early>>
    Sorry, bilbo, you Europeans with your celcius, kilometers and 24 hours clocks! I made sure to use the proper times in the next segment.

    Thanks everyone for letting me know that my kid isn't the only one who didn't like Paris. Good to know it is more normal than I thought.



    When we made our train reservations to Belgium, the TGV to Lille to Bruges was significantly cheaper than the Thalys to Brussels to Bruges. It was about 40% cheaper and only about 30 min longer. The 1st class fare was just a few euros more per person so we ‘splurged’ and bought those. Since I didn’t find much information on this route when searching prior to our trip, most people use Thalys, I will detail it here. We would travel from Gare du Nord on the TGV to Lille Europe station where we would have 22 min to walk the 400m to the Lille Flanders station and hop on the Belgian Rail train to Kortrijk (no 1st class on this train). Then we’d transfer a few minutes later to the train to Bruges (in 1st class again), arriving in Bruges at 18:36. Our itinerary had us taking a train that departed Kortrijk 3 min later and made more stops arriving in Bruges at 18:56. I guess they thought 6 minutes would not be long enough to change to the next platform? Since you have no seat or train reservation on the Belgian Rail, you can take any train so we decided we would grab the earlier one.

    With all of the strikes occurring in France and the terrorist threats with the Euro Cup as well as threats just in general, I decided to register our trip with the US State Department. You let the state department know where and when you will be somewhere and they send you email notifications about safety conditions that arise in your destination. Plus, the embassy can contact you in the event of a disaster or terror event, and family and friends can get in touch in an emergency. I received just a handful of emails from them, usually alerting to a demonstration happening in Paris or Dublin advising us to stay clear. When I checked my emails the previous afternoon, the state department had sent an alert that there would be multi-sector strikes in France the next day, Jun 23, the day we take the train to Belgium. I did a news search and only found warnings of an air traffic controller strike which did, in fact, cause many flights to be cancelled. But I was worried our trip would be disrupted.

    After lunch, we went back to the apartment, connected to wifi and there was an email from SNCF that our train might be affected and personnel on the platforms could advise. It was just after 14:00 and our train was at 15:41. My husband had hoped to take one last shower but we decided to boogie up to the station in case there were issues we needed to deal with.

    We discovered a bus stopped right by the apartment and it would take us right by the station. So we went down to the bus stop and hopped on the next one. The bus was an absolute sauna. No joke, easily upwards of 100 degrees. The windows were open but they did no good except blow the very hot, humid air around. The other passengers were fanning themselves with whatever they had. We arrived at the station a hot, sweaty mess about 20 minutes later.
    The station was pretty hot too. Our train was posted on the departures board awaiting the assigned platform so that was good news. We had to collect our tickets from the yellow machines using our reservation code and the credit card used to purchase them. We plugged in the code, inserted the card (which has a chip) and it would not recognize the card. I tried again. Then again at another machine. No luck. In the back of my mind, I thought I remembered reading on captaintrain or seat61 that you must have the card to collect the tickets or else you’d have to buy new ones. I don’t know if that is true or if my mind was just jumping to the worst case scenario. We started to panic, which didn’t help our body temps, and look around for the ticket windows. They are tucked in the far corner and we saw no signage pointing the way. We finally asked at the information desk and found the ticket booth. After swiping the card a couple times and frowning, scaring the heck out of me, the lady at the ticket window was able to print our tickets for us. After all that, no one even asked to see a ticket on any of the three trains.

    Our platform posted and we headed over to it. When I made the reservations, I remember the TGV train was a double decker train. The train at the platform was not. We were assigned carriage 13 but carriage 13 was 2nd class and only 11 and 12 were 1st class. I asked the attendant and I think she said to take any seat, I don’t speak French. We hopped on and luckily got 4 seats together. People were sitting wherever they could, causing confusion when someone came aboard with that assigned seat. But no one created a fuss and they just took another seat. The 1st class seats were nice and roomy and comfortable. It was an hour ride to Lille.

    Stage 1 of the Euro Cup ended the night before. The 9pm games were Ireland vs Italy in Lille and Belgium vs Sweden in Nice. We arrived at Lille Europe station at 16:45. The place was packed with Irish, Italian and Belgian fans. When we walked out of the station to head to Lille Flanders we discovered the Lille Fan Zone was on the plaza between the two stations and it looked like the aftermath of a music festival. Debris was everywhere. Drunk people were everywhere (the next afternoon, mind you) and there were a couple young men splashing about in the fountain in their underwear.

    At Flanders, we easily found our platform, hopped on the Belgian train and found 4 seats together. We were toward the front of the train in the second car. Seats started to fill up and then the train started to fill with Belgian fans in their jerseys and flag painted cheeks, most were probably in their late teens or 20s. Fan after fan walked by to the front of the train. There was just one car up there. So many people walked by and no one returned and I didn’t notice anyone walking back on the platform. I don’t know where they all went. It was like the equivalent of a clown car.

    That train ride was only 40 min and most of the people had gotten off by the time we reached our stop at Kortrijk. We got off and instead of catching the train on our itinerary 10 feet across the platform on the next track, we went down the stairs, under the tracks, and up the stairs to the next platform for the train that would arrive earlier. Our train arrives and we stood outside the 1st class car and waited for the passengers to get off. Just one older man disembarked and muttered something in Flemish to us, shaking his head. We got on and realized what he was saying. I think the car was even hotter than the Paris bus. We were the only people in the car. I walked through to the next couple cars and they were all just as hot. The A/C on the whole train was out. All we could do was laugh and sweat for the next 45 minutes, at least we had plenty of room to spread out. And the countryside was beautiful. Served us right for trying to gain 20 minutes!

    We arrived in Bruges and we stupidly decided to walk the 15 minutes to our hotel instead of grabbing a cab. The walk took us through beautiful Minnewater Park but we didn’t consider the cobblestone and brick paths. The little wheels on our bags clickety clacked LOUDLY the entire way disturbing the nice couples enjoying the peace and quiet and romance of the park and giving us all headaches. I’m sure we took years off the life of our suitcases. I was never so happy to arrive at a hotel. And it was nice and cool inside, thank god.

    We checked into the Novotel Brugge Centrum hotel and had a family room which was a similar set up to the Premier Inn back in London, a queen bed plus a day bed which was a twin bed with a twin trundle you pulled out. Both twins were made up as beds already. The hotel was nice, clean and just outside the hustle and bustle of the town center. The staff was very helpful and friendly.

    We desperately needed to do some laundry and there was a laundromat just down the street. My daughter desperately needed some alone time away from us, so she stayed in the room with wifi and her ipad. My husband, son and I took our bags of dirty clothes and headed out. We arrived at the laundromat and there was one other couple there folding their finished loads. The instructions were in Flemish and we stared dumbfoundedly at it for a bit and then asked the couple if they spoke English. They were American and had thankfully figured it out. We threw our clothes and detergent into a washer, deposited our coins and selected our machine at the booth, set the timer on our phone and headed down to a bar next to the canal. It reminded me of when my husband and I lived in NYC and we would have laundry night where we’d hang out at the Firehouse Bar next to our laundromat on the UWS. All our friends had an open invite to join us and everyone looked forward to our laundry nights.

    I don’t know the name of the bar but our waiter’s name was Nick so it became Nick’s place to us. We sat outside under a large awning which kept us dry when a rain shower went overhead. I love Belgian blonde beer and drink it often at home, which means I drink a lot of Leffe blonde because that is pretty much all that is sold here. He said that they served what he considered the best blonde beer in Belgium so we ordered a round (son had a soda) and finally exhaled. We sprinkled the infield a few times while our clothes washed and dried (running up to switch them to the dryer when the timer went off.) We chatted with Nick a bit about Belgium, Flemish, and Bruges and just relaxed.

    The last five days had been a whirlwind but I don’t think I’d change anything. We’d be slowing down in Belgium though.


    NEXT: Lovely, charming Ghent

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    love the blow by blow account of your journey, lolfn - I bet it was a lot less fun at the time than it seems when reading it.

    <<People were sitting wherever they could, causing confusion when someone came aboard with that assigned seat. But no one created a fuss and they just took another seat. The 1st class seats were nice and roomy and comfortable. It was an hour ride to Lille.>>

    this made we laugh - we had a similar experience on a TGV from Avignon to Paris and we almost had an international incident. the brits were the worst, insisting on having "their seats" which caused a domino effect.

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    this made we laugh - we had a similar experience on a TGV from Avignon to Paris and we almost had an international incident. the brits were the worst, insisting on having "their seats" which caused a domino effect.>>

    Thank god that didn't happen to us. My son had the perfect window seat and he later told me he was shaking in his boots for the 10 minutes before we departed afraid someone was going to make him move.

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    Is it true that 2nd class carriages don't have assigned seating? That was my understanding until when traveling from Bayeux to Paris a French lady who spoke no English and we who speak no French had a dumb show altercation because she evidently thought we were in her seat. We had our luggage stowed around us, and DH kept shaking his head no at her. She eventually found herself another seat, but she was not a happy camper.

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    Is it true that 2nd class carriages don't have assigned seating? >>

    my understanding is that on the TGV all the seats are assigned, which can be a problem when trains have been delayed and everyone wants to get on the next train.

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    One stereotype of Belgian people is they are considered guarded and reserved when meeting new people. Less kind people will say they are cold and distant. One of our hosts in Ireland wasn’t kind about Belgian people and then mentioned her daughter is going to University in Maastricht and dating a Belgian boy. She said he is very nice but the opposite of the Irish who are generally outgoing, warm and a stranger’s best friend. She said Belgian people think it is weird to talk with strangers for no reason. Oh my, how I can relate to the Belgians and no wonder I felt very much at home there and loved my visit. These people were my people!

    My grandfather on my dad’s side was Belgian. His parents were married in 1902 and for their honeymoon, their families sent them off on a boat to America to start their life together there. I don’t know if that was because they hoped they could have a better life in America or if the two were so unlikable that they couldn’t wait to get rid of them. My dad used to joke he was a descendant of the Irish pioneers on his mother’s side and bunch of crab asses on his father’s side. My dad was the oldest of 9 kids and it is clear the five that got the Irish genes and the four that got the Belgian genes. While they are all fun, kind and witty people, the Irish aunts and uncles are more warm, loving, and approachable. The Belgian ones, my dad included, come across as more reserved and, at times, cold. Two of my aunts traveled to Ireland together. After some time talking with a group of Irish people in a pub, one of the men looked at my aunt who we consider Irish and said, “You, you have the flirty face.” Then he looked at my aunt who we consider Belgian and said, “You, you have the crossy face.” Anyway, while in Belgium, we found everyone we spoke with to be kind and helpful if not the most chatty. No crab asses in sight.

    When deciding where to stay in Belgium, we were torn between Bruges and Ghent and waffled back and forth. In the end, I think we would have been equally happy in either place. We chose Bruges because we got a good deal at a hotel and everyone said Bruges gets very crowded during the day with day trippers and we thought we’d enjoy it more in the quieter morning and evening hours. Then we waffled between renting a car and taking the train. We ended up renting a car and, even though I haven’t done the complete math, I think it was a bit cheaper even factoring in parking costs and gas. Plus, it gave us more freedom. Oh, and I should say here since we did have to pay for parking with a credit card at kiosks, we needed a pin for the card. You will need a pin for any purchase at a kiosk, gas pump, ticket machine, etc. My main card is a Citibank MasterCard, my husband’s is a Barclay MasterCard. He was able to easily get a pin assigned to his card online prior to our trip. I had to call Citibank and the rep kept saying that there was no such thing as a pin unless it was for cash advances. He said he would assign a pin for cash advances but they had to mail it and it did not arrive before our trip even though it had been more than 10 days. Thankfully, my husband’s card worked without issue everywhere.

    It was now Friday, Jun 24th and the news is consumed with Brexit. If only we had planned to go to London at the end of our trip, we could have saved a couple hundred dollars since the pound was crashing. We slept in and had a relaxing morning grabbing breakfast at a real cute restaurant called Carpe Diem which was near our hotel. Even though it isn’t typical Belgian breakfast food, we all got waffles with ice cream and chocolate sauce, because why wouldn’t you? These delicious waffles were very light and airy which isn’t typical.

    We went back to the hotel and had them call us a taxi to take us up to the car rental place which is north of town by a couple miles. It was after 11 am by now. The taxi driver drove us straight through the center of town because the fare was by distance not time and this way was shorter. Now, when Fodorites tell you that Bruges is overrun with people during the day, believe them! There were literally hordes of people to the point where it didn’t seem real. It was Main Street at Magic Kingdom on a crowded day.

    We rented our car from Hertz for 3 days and would drop it off at Brussels airport Monday morning. It was an Opel Astra wagon and was perfect for our needs. It had a navigation system in its dash which the guy said was free to use and we could select any language. It took us a day to finally figure out the ‘select’ button was the skinny silver ring around the main button that seemed like it was just part of the button. The navigation was very helpful especially on our last morning as we maneuvered around rush hour traffic to get to the airport.

    We took off for Ghent and it was an easy 35 min drive on the main highway, the E40. Given my navigation skills, I had researched and mapped out where to park before we left home. I didn’t want to get stuck driving through narrow streets in the city center not having a clue where to go. We parked at Gent Zuid which is near the University, under a shopping mall just south of the historic city center. Parking was per hour and I think we paid about €7 for our time there.

    We walked west through the University area and there were a bunch of cute shops and little eateries. We found a sandwich shop and had lunch. Then we walked up to the city center. It was a beautiful, sunny day and not as hot as Paris. We took advantage of the weather and just walked around taking in the completely charming city. Everywhere you turn looked like it should be a scene on a postcard. My son was enchanted by it all, but my daughter wondered why we enjoyed looking at old buildings. The area around the canals at Graslei and Korenlei was especially beautiful. People were milling around, sitting at the outdoor cafes and dangling their feet over the canal walls. We found the Tollhouse bar at 11 Graslei, the skinniest bar in town next to one of the oldest buildings in Ghent, but it was closed. There is a famous mustard place near the old market, Tierenteyn-Verlent, which we checked out but didn’t purchase anything.

    We did not visit any museums or climb the Belfry tower. We did not even visit the famous Van Eyck altarpiece at St Bavo’s Cathedral. The only attraction we did visit was Gravensteen Castle or the Castle of the Counts, a medieval castle in the middle of the city (€10 each, kids free). The kids absolutely loved exploring it with all its different rooms and nooks and crannies. The view from the top looking over the city and down on the medieval roofs was very cool. They have a torture chamber displaying the many different kinds of torture devices that were used. The kids didn’t like this but my husband and I found it fascinating, though gruesome. Afterwards, walking around the narrow maze like streets in the Patershol area to the east of the castle felt like taking a step back in time. In fact, this city was what I imagined old world Europe to be like when I was a kid growing up. I loved every bit of it and was sad when my husband said we should get going back.

    The town where my family came from is between Ghent and Bruges so we drove there next. There is no access via train so that was the other reason we rented the car. The town is probably now considered a suburb of Ghent. It was rather small with an historic church in the center and a cute main street with flowering window boxes lining all the windows. It was very tidy and well maintained. In fact, we felt that about all of the Belgian towns we drove through. We didn’t notice one dodgy place on our travels. Having a far from common name in America, it was surreal to see my family name on street signs and buildings (less the Van proceeding it) and we took lots of pictures to send back home to the extended family. Our family tree on that side only goes back to Jules, who was born here in 1842. He was the one who sent his son to America for his honeymoon. His wife and the parents of his son’s wife were from small hamlets not far away that were really not much more than crossroads. We drove through those for the fun of it on the way back to Bruges.

    We arrived back in Bruges around 7pm and parked our car in the public garage under our hotel. The first night cost us €7 and the second night cost €9. Since we really hadn’t seen Bruges yet, we took off for the city center and market square. There were still people around but about 20% of what were there midday and it felt more festive than crowded. The carillonneur was playing the bells in the belfry tower and they had bleacher stands set up in the square where people sat to listen. To be honest, after about 15 min, I was over the bells but he plays for a long while. We bought an order of fries from the cart under the tower as people claim that these were some of the best and they were damn good. I always eat my fries with a mix of mayo and ketchup so was right at home. We walked through the narrow, charming side streets checking out menus as we went along looking for something that appealed to everyone and didn’t cost a lot. There were a lot of nice restaurants that were a bit pricey--€25 and up for mains. The hotel recommended Cambrinus which offers over 400 beers. The food wasn’t right for the kids, and fairly pricey, and while it sounds cool that you can choose from 400 beers, it isn’t like we would recognize any on the list and would just ask for their recommendation anyway or close our eyes and point.

    After an hour walking around town, we ended up back at the restaurant closest to our hotel, a cute Italian place with nice pizzas and pasta dishes. I tried the local beer, Bruges Zot, and loved it. We then headed to a waffle shop up the street for dessert. The day was a great introduction to Belgium and almost displaced the Hampton Court Palace day in London as my son’s favorite.


    NEXT: Alone in Bruges, Antwerp and a Bike Ride

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    The Belgian ones, my dad included, come across as more reserved and, at times, cold.>>

    lolfn, the only Belgian person I know at all well is extremely lively and outgoing and never stops talking, in which ever language she is using at the time.

    never mind, I'm enjoying your trip and now we've reached Belgium [long weekends in Ostend, Bruges and Brussels come to mind] which I know a little and would like to know better. One thing I do remember is the excellence of the food whether it's frites or something more sophisticated [like moules frites!]

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    Saturday morning I woke up around 7:15 and the family was all still sleeping. So I grabbed my camera, slipped out of the room and went off to explore Bruges in the quiet of the morning. I would highly recommend doing this to anyone staying in Bruges. I spent about 45 minutes wandering through the old town and saw only a few other people like myself, a couple flea market vendors setting up tables along a canal and the street cleaners cleaning the market square. It was glorious. It was a beautiful morning and it felt like it was all mine. Crossing the canal on Katelijnestraat, the swans were even in formation swimming single file in the middle of the canal toward me with medieval homes on either side. I swear, the Bruges tourist board has to employ a swan trainer as they were always in the right place to create the storybook scene. Bruges is gorgeous. I can see how people think it is too Disney World but I think it is amazing how well preserved it is from the 500+ years ago.

    I returned to the hotel, roused the family and we went out to get a quick take away breakfast. We hopped in the car and drove the hour trip to Antwerp. We entered from the north and parked at my pre-researched garage, Parking De Keyser, which was between the train station and the old city. It also charged by hour and it cost us €10. We walked over to the train station which lives up to its reputation. Gorgeous. While there, I noticed two local girls eating waffles and went on the hunt for the waffle stand. Finally found the cart on the lower level. My husband was resistant to buying a waffle from the cart but I wouldn’t listen. Our breakfast wasn’t great and I wanted to erase that memory. The waffles had been premade and the guy preheated them in the iron. This caused the outside to get even more carmelized and crispy. And even though one would think they shouldn’t be good, they were the best waffles we had all trip.

    We walked out of the train station and headed west toward the old city. The diamond district is to the south of the station, but that didn’t interest us. We walked along Meir Street, a large pedestrian shopping street that is lined with every type of shop imaginable and filled with people out doing their weekend shopping. We did a little detour to check out the outside of Rubens House and then continued on to the Catheral of Our Lady, whose 400’ spire dominates the skyline and is the highest in the low countries. There were some great views of the Cathedral spires from the Pelgrimsstraat, framed within the narrowish street. The main square is really quite spectacular with the cathedral and the Stadhuis, an amazing 15th century Renaissance and Baroque building. We enjoyed walking through Vlaeykensgang, a maze of tiny alleyways that has a few restaurants and residences. The entrance is found at Oude Koornmarkt #16 which is only a meter-wide or at Pelgrimstraat.

    My husband was hungry for lunch but the kids and I were not so we told him to pick a place that looked good to him. He noticed some people eating what looked like delicious fish and chips at Bia Mara just off the square. It originated in Dublin and they offer all different kinds of fish with creative marinades and coatings. Portions were quite large as well. My husband got an order of one kind of fish and chips. I figured the kids and I could split something so I got the regular panko crusted chicken + chips and a garlic truffle mayonnaise that my daughter loved. Our food arrived, my son took one bite of the chicken and he couldn’t get the waitress over fast enough to order his own serving. A big thumbs up from all of us.

    We continued to wander through the old city enjoying the bustling and vibrant city. Antwerp is larger and has more diversity than Ghent so I can see how some people prefer it over Ghent, but my heart still remains in Ghent and would love to go back there for a longer visit at some point. We eventually headed back toward the train station and our car. We stopped at the Smallest Waffle Shop In the World for yet another waffle fix. It was a tiny storefront with a couple waffle makers offering freshly made Liege Waffles with either whipped cream or chocolate. They were very good, but not quite as good as the train station waffle.

    When we left Antwerp, our plan was to drive out to the Knokke-Heist part of the Belgian coast. And then maybe down to De Haan and back to Bruges. But it was getting late and I really wanted to rent bikes and ride out to Damme from Bruges. So we skipped the coast, drove back to Bruges, parked the car and headed up to the bike rental place at Mariastraat 26. We were lucky we cut our drive short because the bike shop closed at 7p and it was now almost 5p. Bruges was still packed with day trippers. We got our bikes and it was too crowded to really ride safely through the people, so we walked the bikes until we got away from the crowds, hopped on the bikes and took off on the bike path that circles the town. We checked out the charming windmills along the way and the old city gate from the 1400s.

    We crossed over the busy ring road to take the road to Damme. You cross the first bridge over the canal, turn right and ride on a virtually car-free and pretty tree-lined path that follows the canal the 5k ride to Damme. Obviously, it is flat and an easy ride. You pass a very quaint windmill right before you get to Damme. Damme is a nice, cosy village and I really liked it. My husband would have liked to keep riding on toward Sluis but we had that pesky bike shop closing time to pay attention to. As it was, we got back to the shop at 7 on the dot. It was a great change of pace and we really enjoyed the ride, wish it would have been longer. It was one of my daughter’s favorite things we did in Belgium.

    That evening, the kids wanted to just hang out with their ipads. So we set them up with room service and my husband and I went out to an old bar in the middle of town to enjoy a few more Belgian beers. I’m pretty sure it was De Zolderkelder Café.


    NEXT: A morning in Bruges and a quiet, rainy afternoon in Mechelen

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    The next day we were moving hotels over to the Novotel in Mechelen as we had a morning flight out of Brussels on Monday. We had discussed a couple different itineraries for Sunday. One was driving to Namur or Dinant and seeing the French side of Belgium. Each has an old citadel on a hill that would be interesting to see plus we could drive by some chateaus on the way. Another was spending the day checking out Leuven and Mechelen. We even considered for a minute going to Maastricht. But the kids wanted to see more of Bruges. We really hadn’t been in town when the tourist sites were open. It was a drizzly morning with heavy rain forecast for all of Belgium the rest of the day and we decided we didn’t want to drive for hours in the pouring rain. So we stayed in Bruges and arrived at the Belfry Tower when it opened at 9:30 and climbed the 366 steps to the top for a beautiful view of town and the countryside. The bells did chime once while we were up there, and though it was very loud, my husband got a cool video of the playing bells. I can’t imagine what it must be like to climb the tower midday since there is just one staircase for both up and down and it gets narrow at the top. Since we were among the first up, it wasn’t an issue climbing. But coming down you could see how quickly it would become a mess with people trying to go both directions.

    After we descended the bell tower, we walked over to one of a handful of boat tour launches. The boat tours start at 10am and we were on the first one of the day which finally departed around 10:20. The boat was full and the other people were from the US, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. The tour operator asked what languages people preferred and he conducted the tour in English, Flemish and German, seamlessly repeating the information in each language without missing a beat. He was very lively and funny, the perfect narrator. The tour lasted about 30 minutes and it is was great to learn some of the history and while it was nice to have a different viewing perspective, I preferred the scenery from the streets. You are quite low in the boat, looking up at everything. About halfway through the tour, we passed the boat launch that was the furthest south on the canals, right off Katelijnestraat and it was packed with people. Easily enough people to fill five or more boats. I have to assume most of these people came off the train or tour buses that dropped them off south of the town. The other boat launches only had a handful of people waiting. So I guess it pays not to go the first one you see if it is really crowded.

    There are a few horse drawn carriages you can hire to take you through Bruges. I think the sign on the side said it was €50. I regret not considering doing this because my daughter would have loved it. My husband shies away from anything touristy like this and I wish I had tried to convince him to do it. If there is one town you want to feel like you are transported back in time, it is Bruges.

    After the tour, we walked back to our hotel to check out, grabbing another waffle on the way. We needed to add data points to our research of the best waffle on our trip! We checked out at noon, jumped in the car and headed toward Mechelen via Antwerp. When we arrived in Mechelen, we found a gas station to fill up so we wouldn’t have to deal with that in the morning. The station was unmanned and we had a comical few minutes trying to figure out where to pay. Turns out there was a little payment machine at the end of the pump island. First time we’d been to a place without payment at each pump. Then we drove to the Novotel and parked in the underground parking garage next to hotel (€16). Our room at this Novotel was similar to the one in Bruges but a bit smaller.

    We walked into town in search of food since it was now after 3pm. Since it was Sunday and shops were closed and it was raining, town was very quiet. There is an Irish pub on the square where we headed since the Ireland vs France match was just starting. Unfortunately, it didn’t serve food on Sundays, just drinks. We walked back to the only open place we had noticed, Ellis Gourmet burgers which was a decent burger joint. After we ate, we went back to the Irish pub for drinks and to watch the rest of the game. Ireland had been up 1-0 but in the second half, France scored 2 goals fairly quickly and then Ireland went down to 10 men sealing their fate. I’d say half the crowd cheered when France won.

    Mechelen is a lovely town and it was a nice change to see different architecture on the square since Bruges is all the same. You can climb the tower of St. Rumbolds Cathedral where they have a glass skywalk but it wasn’t worth the €32 for the family to go up in bad weather. There is also a good Holocaust museum that I thought might be interesting. But the family was a bit done with sightseeing and tired. So we wandered a bit, bought yet another waffle, and headed back to relax at the hotel. At 9pm, Belgium was playing Hungary so my husband, son and I went to the hotel bar to watch and have our last of the delicious Belgian beer. Belgium won 4-0 and at the end of the game, there was a lot of cheering and horns honking on the street.

    I LOVED Belgium and am surprised it doesn’t seem to be on a lot of people’s radar as a great place to visit. Prior to our trip, we got a number of odd looks from people when we told them where we were going. And questions as to why Belgium. Next time, I hope to enjoy more of the great food it is known to offer. We did love the beer and the waffles and the fries. Mussels were not in season so we did not partake in the national dish and we must return in season because it is one of my favorite dishes to order in restaurants and make at home.


    NEXT: Racing to make our flight

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    This next leg in our trip resulted in our biggest snafu. If we had done a couple things differently, I think it could have all been avoided but, alas, it was what it was. We flew from Brussels to Dublin. Back before the holidays, I looked at Aer Lingus who has a morning and an evening flight and tickets at the time were very cheap. We needed to decide when exactly we wanted to fly—Sunday night, Monday morning or Monday night. Just how much time did we want to allocate to Belgium and to Ireland? My husband and I did not sit down to figure it out and got busy with the holidays. In mid to late January, we revisited the need to make the reservations and prices had tripled. Dangit! So we looked at Ryanair and prices were much more reasonable. Our carry on bags would be too big and heavy to be considered carry on so we’d have to check them. The business plus fare allows one free checked bag and, with this factored in, it was only a few $ more per ticket. Plus you sit up front, have priority check in line and fast pass through security. So we bought business plus tickets for Monday morning at 9:50am with Ryanair.

    It is about 10 miles from Mechelen to the airport and we did factor in rush hour traffic to our timing. The plan was to get to the airport by 7:50 and that was stupid. There is no reason we shouldn’t have just gotten up early and arrived at 6:30. It was a bad decision. Of course we weren’t as quick getting out as we thought we’d be, and when we headed out from the hotel by 7:30, google had travel time at over an hour. Our navigation system rerouted us to side roads dropping the time to 30 minutes. The whole experience at the airport was very unsettling. You could not help but think about what had happened there just 3 months prior. There are big men with machine guns stationed at every checkpoint as you drive into the airport. To get to the rental car drop off, we had to show our papers and the men thoroughly inspected the car. We drove into the garage and dropped the car with Hertz. Thankfully, you can walk from the car drop to the terminal and not have to wait for a shuttle bus.

    As you approach the terminal, you are funneled into roped areas that take you through makeshift tents. Armed guards are stationed every 15 feet watching every person walking by. Inside the terminal, it was crowded with the morning rush but we easily found the Ryanair check in desks. There was no attendant at the Priority desk and a long line of people at the Dublin desk. After a few minutes standing at the Priority desk, looking around hoping someone would approach, I walked over and asked the Dublin attendant if there was anyone working the Priority desk. He said there should be and went back to his job. I stood at the Priority desk and my family lined up in the Dublin line. I noticed that the attendant was tagging people’s bags and then asking them to take the bag back and place it next to the check-in line. After about 15 minutes, he took pity and called me over to check us in. I called my family out of line. He tagged our bags and then asked us to add them to the group of bags in the departure lounge. The electricity was going on and off and the baggage conveyer belt was not operating correctly and the young man was not handling the chaos well. In hindsight, I wish I had insisted he put them behind him. Or I wish I had thought to take them with us to gate check them. But it was so chaotic, I just asked the kids if they had anything irreplaceable in the bags because I didn’t think we’d see them again.

    We headed off to security and our fast pass barcodes did not work. It took time to track down an attendant to show our business class boarding passes and she got us through the barriers. We went through the security lines and hit a wall of people waiting at passport control. The line snaked forever with only two people on duty stamping passports. It was now about 8:50 and we figured there was no way we were going to make our flight. A woman ahead of us also had a 9:50 flight to Serbia and she was starting to panic as well. She tried to get people to let her move up but only got two groups up before someone said no way. Luckily, two more people came on duty so the line split into two groups. We started to get our hopes up but the line still moved so slowly. At 9:30, we had a couple people ahead of us and we finally got through a few minutes later. We looked at the departure board and our gate was B94. We hurried over to Pier B and the overhead sign that said B1-98 this way. Oh god, we are at the very end! We started to jog and after what felt like forever, we were at B11. It was like a bad dream where you are trying to run and the destination keeps moving further and further away. It was now 9:40 and the gate should be closing.

    Thankfully, around gate B15 or so, the kids saw a sign that directed gates B80ish to B98 to the lower level. Our gate was downstairs, not at the end of the long Pier. We jumped on the elevator and raced to the gate. We were the last people on the bus to the plane, crammed inside the side doorway. We were so happy to sit down on that plane. The seats weren’t roomy but it was fine for the 1 ½ hour flight. We arrived in Dublin on time and, surprise, surprise, our bags did not. This was a bummer because all of our rain gear and warm clothes were in the suitcases and the forecast was rain and chilly temps. We were the first over to the Ryanair baggage desk and explained the problem to the woman working. Before she knew it, she had a deluge of people including a large group of french students who didn’t really speak English. I recognized most everyone from the check in line. She looked liked she wished she had called in sick that day.

    She informed us that they would file a report and if the bags came in on the later flight that day, they would be processed on Tuesday and delivered to us on Wednesday. She mentioned that it is such a large number of bags, they should be easy to find. Seeing as we left them among the general public in the departure area, I wasn’t 100% confident. We were staying at a house in Kenmare on Tue and Wed nights so gave them that address plus our mobile and the mobile of the home’s owner. My husband then turned on his cell phone activating our $10/day Verizon Travelpass so they could contact us. At least we’d now have Internet when we wanted it! It wasn’t Ryanair’s fault that the electricity wasn’t working that morning but they should have had the Priority check in desk manned. If they had, I think our bags would have made the flight. In fact, if the check in guy had just allowed the bags to pile up behind him, I think they would have made it. And, of course, if we had gotten to the airport earlier, it all would have been avoided. But, what was truly unacceptable was how Ryanair dealt with the bags and communication after arrival in Dublin. More on that later.

    We headed to the Hertz counter and shuttle to pick up our VW Passat wagon rental car. A big benefit of no bags is we just hopped off the shuttle and headed into the building. Everyone else had to collect their bags so we were at the front of the line. The line was out the door when we left and only two people were on duty. Our Citibank Mastercard provides rental car insurance in Ireland. Most other cards do not. Our terms and conditions stated that we needed a letter from the credit card company confirming we were covered in Ireland. Plus, there would be a €3000 hold placed on the card. It also stated that this hold is waived for Gold Card members, which we are. We declined the €145 insurance coverage for the car offered by Hertz. The woman barely glanced at the letter from Citibank and said the hold would be placed on my card. We mentioned the waiver and she said that since it was the first time we were renting in Ireland, it didn’t apply to us. We didn’t argue as we were primarily using my husband’s card and the credit limit of the card is high enough that it didn’t matter. And, spoiler alert!, we didn’t have any issues with the car so never tested how good Citibank’s coverage would have been.

    We were happy we were in Ireland and happy to be on our way. It was a beautiful day, it would be the nicest day of our time there. Despite no bags, everyone was in great spirits. Off to find lunch, clothes and toiletrees!

    NEXT: We're in IRELAND!!!

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    A few years ago, we flew to San Francisco from Baltimore and the baggage conveyer belt in Baltimore was not working. So our bags missed the flight. Unfortunately, 15 minutes before we were to land, the Asiana Airlines plane crashed on the SFO runway. We were quickly diverted to Oakland but the bags had been sent on the next flight to SFO. SFO was closed for a day or so and our bags were in limbo. We finally had to collect them ourselves at the airport 3 days later on our way to Yosemite. We learned then that you can waste a lot of time buying replacement clothes and toiletries. We didn’t want to waste time shopping now.

    We stopped at a shopping center right off the M50. They had a Nandos so we had a quick lunch there and made a list of what we’d need. We hoped we’d be reimbursed for our purchases, but still didn’t want to spend a lot of money in case we weren’t. Boots was across from Nandos so we grabbed the toiletries we needed. Then we headed to H&M because it is cheap and could service the entire family in one go. We each grabbed a couple t-shirts, underwear, socks, pjs and met at the checkout. I wish I had made my son buy some pants as he was the only one of us wearing shorts. Temperatures barely got to the low 60s/15 while we were there.

    Before arriving in Ireland, we had thought about stopping at the Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle if time permitted on the way to our first night’s stay in Kinsale. But the one non-negotiable was Blarney Castle. My daughter didn’t care that people consider it too touristy, she wanted to go. Over three hours later than planned, we were finally leaving the Dublin area and hoped to get to Blarney with enough time to see it before it closed at 7 (last tickets sold at 6:30). We arrived around 5:30 and the place was almost empty. It seems the end of the day is the time to go. We all loved it and can’t imagine people wanting to skip it, but can imagine it is a different experience if it is overrun with tours and people. The castle grounds are absolutely beautiful. The kids loved the castle and checking out all the little areas. Everybody but me kissed the stone, I had done it in 1987. The guy helping seemed ready to be done with his day. We left at 6:45 and the gates had already been shut down and the barricade to the parking lot was closed to the point we almost couldn’t get out. We felt like the last men standing.

    It was about a 40 minute drive to our hotel overlooking a little harbor in Kinsale. We stayed at the Actons Hotel and it was lovely. When we made our reservations, the largest room available was a triple but we requested a roll away bed for the fourth person + paid an additional €25. We contacted them to confirm the roll away bed prior to leaving on our trip, they confirmed we were in a standard family room with a queen bed and two singles. They had upgraded us and we arrived to a 2 bedroom suite which was very nice. The only negative is the heat seemed to be on or else the rooms are just very warm. We had to open the windows at night and it still didn’t cool down enough to be a comfortable sleeping temperature.

    We didn’t get a chance to see much of Kinsale thanks to our earlier debacle but what we did see, we found to be very charming. We had dinner at the White House and enjoyed some delicious seafood. The pub was showing the England vs Iceland game and the entire place cheered when England lost. If you didn’t know better, you’d have thought Ireland had just won a match.

    Then it was back to the hotel to break in our new toothbrushes and pjs.


    NEXT: Beautiful Beara

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    When we started planning the Ireland leg of our trip, we, like many people, became very ambitious and wanted to see all the pretty scenery, no peninsula would be left undiscovered. Even though we enjoy long drives, in reality, you quickly realize that you can’t see it all and must pick and choose where to go. Tuesday, the plan was to drive along the Atlantic and around the Beara Peninsula to Kenmare. Originally, we had considered adding Mizen Head (Star Wars had just filmed out there) and Sheeps Head but that would have been far too much. I’m sure all these places are absolutely gorgeous, but everywhere you go in Ireland is absolutely gorgeous and you should try to get some varied landscape if you can. We did a lot of driving the next three days, but felt that each drive was different from the one before.

    Also, I wanted to point out that we found Google Maps estimated travel times to be pretty darn accurate on this trip. I’ve read many times that you need to add significant time to their estimation, but I think the technology has really improved, even able to factor in slow traffic due to accidents/traffic jams.

    We woke up to rain and this would be the pattern for the rest of the week. It would pour rain overnight, into the morning, start to taper off by late morning, and we’d even see a bit of sun among the clouds in the afternoon. Thursday was probably our worst weather day but I think it was my favorite scenery. Included with our hotel stay was a full Irish breakfast which we thoroughly enjoyed. The tshirts from H&M didn’t fit my husband right and we needed to find replacements but were now in expensive boutique central with no cheap department stores in sight. The front desk recommended Fatface which would open at 9:30. I also asked them where we could buy an umbrella and the woman went into the back and returned with a really nice umbrella which she gave to me to keep, saying we’d been through enough already. So nice and so appreciated! My husband and I headed over to Fatface, a UK clothing store inspired by surfing and skiing. They weren’t quite ready to open yet so we wandered into a lovely store with beautiful, and very expensive, hand knits and such. We had a real nice chat with the lady working there. She, like many others we spoke with in Ireland, was very curious about the US election and what real people thought about it all. At Fatface, they were having a good sale and he found a couple tshirts plus I got a sweater since my light fleece alone wasn’t cutting it for me.

    That morning, my husband hadn’t turned off his do not disturb on his phone and he missed a call from Dublin, we assumed Ryanair baggage. They left no message. He immediately called back, no answer and no messaging system to leave message, just a ringing telephone on the other end. We would come to hate that ringing telephone. We checked out of the hotel and started driving the Wild Atlantic Way. And then we remembered that my son gets carsick. Ooops! I hadn’t even considered that when we were planning all of the small road driving. In Yosemite, we had to pull over once for him to throw up. Luckily, that didn’t happen in Ireland but he would feel sick much of the way and it really put a dark cloud over his views of Ireland.

    It was a beautiful ride and we arrived in Bantry around lunchtime. In hindsight, we should have stopped here for lunch since it seemed like a lively town that would have a lot of options. But we kept going to Glengarriff which felt like a ghost town in comparison. As we drove through town, the kids noticed a pizza sign outside a pub so we parked and were headed there to eat. The pub owner was outside flagging down every customer he could to eat at his place. If we weren’t already headed there, I probably would have been put off by this. The food was just ok. All morning, we had kept trying to call Ryanair and no one ever answered the phone. Finally, at lunch, someone did and let us know 3 of the 4 bags had been located and would be delivered the next day to the address we gave them. They would call when the 4th bag was located. That was a relief but we wondered whose bag was still missing.

    For the Beara Peninsula, I referenced this thread as it seemed fairly exhaustive on what to see on Beara www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g775193-i20379-k4594606-Driving_Beara_Peninsula-Crookhaven_County_Cork.html.

    Beara has breathtaking scenery and we pulled over often to take photos and to take it in. Castletown-Bearhaven is a real cute town and we got ice cream cones at a local shop. Just beyond the town is the ruins of the Dunboy Castle which was situated on a gorgeous point overlooking the water, the town and Bere Island. We drove out to Lamb’s Head to see the cable car to Dursey Island. Brave souls were traveling back and forth. Gondola rides scare me to death and the rusty look of the machinery made this one look scarier than most. The views were spectacular from the ground.

    We continued around to the northern side of the peninsula and I thought the scenery was even more beautiful than the southern side. You travel through some quaint, quintessential Irish villages. We were virtually alone on the roads which was nice. The roads are narrow and you need to be careful of oncoming traffic but there are a lot of turn outs to pull over for easy passing. But we didn’t find much traffic on Beara at all. In 1987, I drove the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula and it felt so much more remote back then. The roads have been much improved and fencing is more common so you don’t often come upon herds of sheep or cows in the middle of the road.

    There are a few stone circles you can visit on the peninsula. We looked at photos of each online and chose to stop at Ardgroom. To get to the circle, we had to drive down some tiny roads, park the car and walk across sheep and cow pastures. At the small car park area, there was a plaque explaining the circles. The path was fairly obvious and they had large flat stones placed in muddy parts for easier walking, they even had a ladder to climb over a stone wall. We skipped over many cow patties and arrived at the circle which was very cool. You are up on a hill and the water and hills beyond make for a stunning backdrop. I was the last one of the family to walk out of the pasture and a cow finally voiced his displeasure at our company. At least it didn’t charge me, just gave me a good scolding.

    We finally arrived at Kenmare around 6. We drove to the house where we would be staying the next 2 nights. Jane, the host, moves to a carriage house in her backyard and rents out her house from Easter through October. It is 2-3 miles north of Kenmare and has 3 bedrooms/3 baths. It was a perfect respite from our travels. The kids loved spreading out and having their own rooms for a change. Jane was extremely warm and welcoming. Both mornings, she laid out a beautiful breakfast for us as well.

    We headed into Kenmare to check out the cute town and have dinner. We chose one of the many pubs on Henry Street and enjoyed classic pub food accompanied by live music. Town was hopping but it felt like everybody was American. After dinner, we picked up some beers at the market and headed back to the house to relax.


    NEXT: Doing the Gap and Dingle

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    Excellent report. To go back to your early morning in Bruges, it is so true that just about any historical city is magical at that time of day and it is really a shame that so many visitors do not understand the concept of early rising to really appreciate the atmosphere and the architecture.

    Your son might even have liked Paris if he had seen it at that time of day.

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    <<To go back to your early morning in Bruges, it is so true that just about any historical city is magical at that time of day and it is really a shame that so many visitors do not understand the concept of early rising to really appreciate the atmosphere and the architecture.>>

    kerouac, I agree completely. And it wasn't like it was at sunrise. I was walking around at 8am virtually all alone.

    <<We have traveled also with kids and can be frustrating and rewarding in the same breath...>>

    surfmom, ain't that the truth! We definitely had our moments where we didn't really want to be around each other but, all in all, the kids did great and we have some fantastic memories. Being able to spread out to different rooms in Ireland really helped to improve everyone's moods.

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    The next day our plan was to drive the Dingle Peninsula. My husband and I had heard such great things about the Gap of Dunloe and we wanted to see if we could shoehorn it in. Usually people will take a tour which includes a ride out to the northern side of the Gap where they would hire a jaunting cart or just walk the road, travel through the Gap and then take a boat across the lakes to Ross Castle and bus back to Killarney. The tour gets rave reviews but it takes most of a day. The jaunting cart drivers do not like people driving the road and I’ve heard some can become quite aggressive. Jane, our host, confirmed this as well. We hoped to see the Gap without spending a day to do it or upsetting others’ livelihood. We came up with a couple options and I asked on the forums for feedback. Tony greenlighted our early morning option and gave us exact directions. Colduphere recommended biking through the Gap and that also would have been a great option, given you can rent bikes easily.

    Sunrise was at 5:30. We got up around 6:15, let the kids continue sleeping, and took off for the Gap by 6:30. It had really rained hard overnight and was still misty when we left. The fog, which was our concern, wasn’t too bad. We drove to Moll’s Gap and then headed north through the Gap. Based on what I had read, I expected the road to be barely passable but it was fine. One lane, well paved and plenty of turn outs. We only saw three other cars and I think they were locals who lived out that way and were headed out for their day. They certainly were not dawdling along. We quickly pulled over and let them pass each time. This was the only place we found where the sheep roamed freely all over the road. At one point, there was a small herd of about 8 sheep trotting down the road and they were each a different breed. Very cute. The scenery is truly spectacular. The waterfalls were raging due to all the overnight rain. I can only imagine what it is like on a sunny day if it was that pretty in the mist. We reached Kate’s Cottage around 8 and the carts hadn’t even started setting up for the day. It was a definite highlight of our trip and I’m so happy we got up early to drive it. I would recommend it to any early risers looking for some incredible scenery.

    We drove back to our house and the road through the National Park between Killarney and Kenmare was no joke. I think it was the curviest road with the most hairpin turns we had in all of Ireland. But the park is gorgeous, stunning and not to be missed.

    Back at the house, we got the kids up and had our delicious breakfast. We took off back on the N71 north through the Park to Muckross House. We warned our son about the road and he barely made it. We decided when we came back that evening, we would drive the long way around to the east of Killarney and Kenmare. We also were nervous to encounter any tour buses heading back to Killarney in the afternoon.

    We stopped at Muckross House and wandered around the beautiful grounds. We did not tour the house but thoroughly enjoyed the gorgeous setting on the lake in the middle of the national park and were very happy we made the short detour.

    In Killarney, we parked on one of the main streets to run into Penneys to round out our wardrobes a bit more. The historic center of Killarney is great. Very charming. But there is a lot of build up of hotels and such outside of town which felt a bit like sprawl you’d find anywhere.

    Afterwards, we headed to the Dingle Peninsula. Our first stop was Inch Beach where a few people were surfing and they were fun to watch for a bit. The clouds were just starting to clear at this point and by the time we got out to Dunmore Head, the weather would be beautiful.

    We stopped for lunch in Dingle which was a lively and colorful town. We walked up and down the main drag checking out the menus at each restaurant and had a difficult time finding a place that appealed to all of us. We finally went to Dingle Pub and, once again, were surrounded by Americans. The food was fine, I actually can’t even remember what I ordered so I guess it wasn’t terribly memorable. My husband did get the seafood chowder and loved it. When we got back to our house, Jane told us rumors were a whale was sighted in Dingle harbor midday which would have been fun to see.

    We drove the beautiful Slea Head Drive stopping at various outlooks along the way. I loved the stone walls dividing the green pastures on the hillsides. The kids really enjoyed the beehive huts near Dunbeg Fort. Prior to that, someone was sitting in their truck with a hand written sign advertising access to a stone fort and sheep petting. My daughter wanted to pet some sheep so we went over to investigate. There was a small pen of sheep near the truck and a few sheep came over and stuck their head through the fence looking for some love and attention just like a sweet dog would do. My daughter loved this.

    In my notes, I had noted the following from a tripadvisor thread, “most people stop at the crucifix to take in their first proper view of the Blasket islands and Dunmore Head. Watch out for cheeky seagulls!” When you come around the corner, the crucifix is on the right side and there is a gorgeous view of the islands on the left side. We pulled off the road in the turnout alongside the stone wall on the cliffside and a seagull stood on the wall right next to my passenger side window staring in at us. I had to be careful opening the door to slide out as we were close to the wall and the bird would not move. I went around to the front of the car to take some photos while the bird sat there squawking at my family. When I came back alongside the car, I got within inches of the bird and it wouldn’t move. I tried to shoo it away and it finally relented and moved a couple feet down so I could get into the car. But then it came right back scolding us for not feeding it. Cheeky indeed!

    We continued our drive to just past Slea Head Beach, where there were a few people swimming, some without any wetsuits. There is a parking lot just beyond the beach at the base of Dunmore Head. My daughter wanted to climb up the hill so my husband and I went with her. My son stayed behind to recover from carsickness. It is a steep climb up but the paths are fairly well patted down from the people who’ve gone beforehand. The view from the top was gorgeous and it was well worth the climb. My daughter liked seeing Luke Skywalker’s home (Skellig Michael) in the distance from different vantage points. The week prior to our trip, my mom took a cruise around Ireland on a small 100 person ship. One of the options offered was to be taken to the island in a zodiac and climbing up to the top. When we returned I asked if she had done it and she said due to the increased popularity from the movie no one is allowed on the island now.

    We continued the enjoyable ride around Slea Head Drive and when it was time to drive inland back toward Dingle, we happened to be the fourth car in a line which made for some easier driving since you didn’t have to worry about what was coming around the corner at you. At Dingle, we turned off to take the road over Connor Pass to have some different scenery on the way home. Just before the road narrows to one lane, there is a parking lot and another large hill you can climb up. Our kids did the climb but my husband and I hung back at the car enjoying the view down to the water to the north.

    We drove to south of Tralee and took the N22 back to Killarney and continued on the N22 to Loo Bridge where we picked up the R569 to Kenmare. Much faster and easier driving for our car sick kid and tired-of-shifting driver. We stopped at the stone circle in Kenmare on the way back through town but decided we liked the one at Ardgroom better. We ran by the good sized supermarket to pick up some food and drinks for dinner and headed back to our house.

    Throughout the day, we had continued to call Ryanair to find out the status of our bags. There was never any answer. They were supposed to call us about our fourth bag and we also expected a call from the delivery people. But no one ever called us. The three bags were supposed to be delivered today and we arrived at the house to no bags. Jane said she had her phone on her all day and received no calls. We were concerned because we were leaving the following morning and if the bags were in route to that house we wouldn’t be able to retrieve them. We were very bummed but didn’t let it get us down. At least we could do a load of the laundry to clean the clothes we did have.


    NEXT: Loophead Drive and the Cliffs of Moher

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    Ok, only a couple more days on our trip and I am determined to get this report done this weekend. Bless you if you are still reading along!


    The next morning, I called Ryanair baggage service at 7am sharp and someone actually answered! She said the three bags were delivered to us yesterday and the fourth would be on its way. She was surprised when I informed her that no bags were delivered. I told her we were leaving our destination and the bags could not be delivered there. That night we were staying at a farmhouse in the Burren but Friday night, we’d be at the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis so I asked her to have the bags delivered there. Surely they’d be able to find a well known hotel. She said she would call the delivery company when they opened at 9 and call me back. I pleaded with her to call me with an update and not leave us hanging yet again.

    Just before 8, the delivery guy happened to call us (he hadn’t yet spoken with Ryanair). He had our bags but was surprised to hear we were in County Kerry. My husband couldn’t understand his accent well, but he was no where near us. He told my husband that the bags would have to go back to Dublin to be reprocessed and sent out again on Friday. My husband also told him they needed to go to the Old Ground Hotel. Ryanair never called us back to confirm. At this point we wouldn’t be surprised if we picked our bags up at the airport before our return trip to the US. At least it was very easy to pack- by throwing everything in the big H&M shopping bag!

    Our plan today was to drive to County Clare, go around the Loophead drive and head up to our Airbnb farmhouse in the Burren. The weather was cold with off and on showers. One minute it would be dry and the very next, a squall would hit hard and move through quickly. It was our worst weather day. I thought longingly of my down vest and other warm layers in my suitcase that were enjoying their own journey around Ireland. Our original plan was to go to the Cliffs of Moher the next morning, even hoping for a boat tour, but the forecast was for scattered showers and even higher winds. I remember the Cliffs in ‘87 being extremely windy on a normal day and figured it would be hurricane force on a windy day. So we decided we would try to visit the Cliffs today if we had enough time. And we knew that the boat tour was definitely a no go due to weather.

    We had another great breakfast prepared by our host and a nice long chat with her, she was dying to talk about the US election. She had dug into her wardrobe and found old raincoats for all four of us to have. It was a godsend as we would really need them today. We were so very appreciative of her kindness. We finally took off, taking the N22 to the east of Kenmare/Killarney again and driving north to the ferry at Tarbert. The ferry leaves every half hour and we arrived about 10 minutes before the next departure. We had purchased our tickets on our phone for a 10% discount. It cost €16.20 to cross. They loaded up the ferry and off we went for the 20 minute journey. We did get out of the car to check out the view but it was so cold and nasty, we didn’t last longer than the time it took to take a picture of us huddled together, hoods tight around our faces.

    Our first destination was lunch in Kilrush. We ate at Crotty’s Pub and it was the best pub meal we had in Ireland. And, the first place where we didn’t feel like there were Americans everywhere. From there, we drove the coast road clockwise around the peninsula and it was my favorite drive. It felt like we were on a barrier island. Low brush, much more windswept and beautiful despite the cloudy/drizzly/squally weather. The road was usually not much more than one lane, but we didn’t see many other cars. We did see a few different sheepdogs running around and they all came over to the car to say hello. So sweet and friendly, jumping up to put their head in the window and greet us. Our dog at home is part sheepdog, part hound and their friendliness really reminded us of her.

    We parked out at the Loophead lighthouse but did not go in for the tour. Reviews were pretty unanimous that it wasn’t worth the money. But the scenery around the lighthouse was beautiful and I’m sure even more so on a pretty day. The cliffs were stunning. I’m happy we saw these first as, while similar to the Cliffs of Moher, they are about 1/3 the height so we might have been less awed. But, unlike the Cliffs, we were virtually alone here, with only two other couples in sight. We walked a ways along the cliffside so thankful for the raincoats from our host. Finally too cold to go further, we headed back to the car to drive the northern coast road. On our way back to Kilkee we stopped at the Bridges of Ross which has one remaining stone arch.

    From here, we drove along the coast through Kilkee to Lahinch. At Doonbeg, we took a short detour to check out the Greg Norman designed golf course that was bought by Trump a couple years ago. The topography of the links course was very cool with the course undulating in and around the high sand dunes. It was a lovely drive to Lahinch which seemed to be a nice, lively town, and then we drove up to the Cliffs of Moher.

    We arrived at the Cliffs at about 5:30/6pm and the carpark closes at 7:30. There were still a good number of people there but not a lot of big tour buses. Just after we walked across the street, a huge squall hit. You could see the rain come up and over the cliffs and descend down on us. We raced through the sideways, pelting rain to the visitor center to wait for it to pass. It didn’t take long to pass and we headed out to the cliffside. We could see a sun spot out on the water and waited for it to make its way to us and actually got some decent pictures. The Cliffs are everything people say, a must see in my mind.

    We stayed for about an hour before the weather finally got the best of us. We headed to a market in Lisdoonvarna to pick up fixings for breakfast the next morning and then headed to O’Donoghues Pub in Fanore for dinner. We thought we’d be getting away from tourist crowds but once again, the place was filled with a large group of Americans. They were all talking about horses and riding so we asked the owner if they were there for some horse event. He said that he had set them up that day with a buddy who provided trail riding. Dinner was very good, very large portions. They were out of burgers so my son had the T-bone and had no problem finishing off that huge piece of steak. I have to admit though, after getting spoiled with the wonderful beer in Belgium, we were a little disappointed with our beer choices in Ireland. But that didn’t keep us from continuing to sample them.

    We rented a farmhouse through Airbnb for the night which was in the middle of the Burren. We didn’t arrive at the farmhouse until after 9pm. The landscape on our drive there was unbelievable and unlike anything I’ve seen before. The limestone pavement was so interesting. I immediately thought of the surface of the moon and laughed when I looked up the Burren online and read it described that way. The 3br/3ba old stone farmhouse had been recently renovated and was perfect for the night. The kids each grabbed their own bedroom and got settled in. We opened some wine, found the soccer game on TV, and relaxed. At 11:30 when we headed to bed, the sun hadn’t fully set yet and it felt like dusk.

    Since our original plan was to visit the Cliffs, we had some time for a leisurely morning to make breakfast and go for a little hike around the house really enjoying the unique landscape. Sometime after 11, we packed up our shopping bags and headed out. The weather consisted of periodic, fast moving squalls but with sun in between the squalls and it was much windier. My husband and I could drive around beautiful places all day, every day. But the kids had had enough with scenic drives. So we decided to see some ruins and castles on our way to Ennis.

    First stop was a quick detour to Corcomroe Abbey, the ruins of a 13th century monastery. The stonework was beautiful but the kids weren’t that interested in it and I found myself admiring it and taking photos by myself as they headed back to the car. Next, we went to Dunguaire Castle which is a 16th century castle on Galway Bay just east of Kinvara. The kids weren’t interested in touring the inside because it didn't look as good as some of the other castles we'd seen, but we did wander outside a bit enjoying the setting on the water. We continued onto Kilcagan to look for a lunch place but it didn’t offer many choices so we drove the 10 minutes back to Kinvara which was a much livelier town. We parked on the main street and strolled through the town. We ended up eating at the Tide Full Inn, an Italian place. We all got different pizzas and enjoyed them. Nice, thin crispy crusts which we prefer.

    The farmhouse owner had a binder with pamphlets of different sights in the area. There was one for Dysert O’Dea castle and ruins which I thought looked really interesting. http://www.dysertcastle.com/ We headed here next. John O’Dea from Wisconsin is a descendent of these O’Deas and he purchased the castle and worked on restoring it. The castle is in good shape and partially furnished and there are interesting tidbits about life in medieval times. We toured the castle and then checked out the high cross, 12th century abbey ruins and tower house nearby. It was a really interesting place and there were only a few other people there.

    Next we drove into Ennis arriving mid afternoon. It was a Friday and town was hopping. We found our hotel, The Old Ground House, parked the car and checked in. They told us we had four bags waiting for us in our room and we all let out a huge sigh of relief. It was 5 days without our bags.
    It is a very nice hotel with lovely sitting rooms and a great pub, The Poet’s Corner. We had reserved a junior suite and our room had a nice sized living room with loveseat, chair, coffee table and TV. The good sized bedroom had two queen sized beds and another TV.

    We walked into the room and our suitcases were lined up on the wall. Based on all the stickers on our luggage, our bags had had quite the journey from when they arrived in Ireland that Monday evening. This picture of an Olympic golfer being reunited with his lost golf clubs reminded me of what my daughter looked like.

    https://twitter.com/GrilloEmiliano/status/762840881040793605

    We relaxed for a bit and then headed out to explore Ennis in the drizzle. It is a great town. We ended up eating dinner at Brogans and had a cozy booth where we enjoyed great pub food. Our plan was to return to The Poet’s Corner to have some more drinks and watch the Belgium vs Wales game. We arrived to a packed bar. We put our names on the list and were told it would be about a 30-40 minute wait. We decided against fighting the crowds and to just have drinks in our room and watch the game on the TV there. My son and I ran out to find a market to buy the drinks. Not realizing Dunnes was right up O’Connell Street, we first headed west and since it was after 8pm, the shops in this area were closed and the lack of foot traffic made it feel a bit dodgy. We eventually made it back to O’Connell Street, found the Dunnes, purchased our drinks and settled back in our room to watch Wales beat Belgium. We were rooting for Belgium so were bummed.


    NEXT: Castles, castles, castles for our last day

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    I'm still here, and enjoying your trip report very much, including the saga of the luggage.

    We went to Ireland quite a few years ago and loved it as much as you did, though we had better weather AND hadn't lost all our clothes. You are making me think about going back, so thanks!

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    lolfn, I just found this so didn't have to wait for each installment. Thanks for this wonderful TR! Your air planning plus pre-viewing sights with your kids gets you many kudos. The number of steps you took was very impressive.

    There is a Nandos in the Annapolis MD area as well. I’ve been only once but the food was good.

    OMG, what great luck to have use of your friend’s apartment in Paris. FWIW, one of my 3rd graders dropped her purse into the Foucoult pendulum in DC.

    Are you left-handed, lolfn? Often lefties have some mixed dominance and being right/left challenged can happen. DH and I finally carried a compass. How smart of you to register with the State Department.

    Glad you had a card that worked at the gas pumps! And so glad you got to see Bruges sans people. It is such a pretty place. We only had a day tour there so it still beckons. I was interested in lace-making but the place where folks (nuns?) made it was closed that day.

    Great to read that Google Maps worked for you. I have never been to Ireland. Your descriptions are inspiring. Your Kenmare house sounded perfect. Boos to Ryanair. So annoying.

    annhig, let me know when you are going!

    OK, let’s get to the castles, please!

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    annhig, I'm glad I didn't lose you along the way! I also want to return to Ireland and next time, check out the northern parts.

    TDudette, I'm glad you enjoyed it. It is funny, after we returned home, I looked up Nandos in the US and saw that there were a few in MD and VA. One is only 3 miles from my mom's place! The kids were thrilled. We just visited her last week and had yet another meal at Nandos. Our weekend home is in St. Michaels, so Annapolis isn't too much of a haul for us either if we find we need a fix.

    I am right handed but left dominate in other areas like sports. So maybe that is my issue, so happy I'm not alone!

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    Last installment, wahoo! Writing trip reports isn't for the wimpy and now I know why lots peter out halfway through. But I'm so happy to have written it all down and to have a great record of our trip. Thanks for reading!


    The next morning, we slept in and then enjoyed the wonderful full Irish breakfast included in our stay at the hotel. This was our last full day in Ireland and we would be flying home the following morning. We packed up having forgotten how much time it takes when you actually have a suitcase to pack. As we were walking to our car, we watched another car zip by and go to the right of the barrier instead of the left. Yikes! You really do have to continually think to stay to the left and not get complacent.

    First stop was Bunratty Castle. The kids enjoy Williamsburg and the folk park seemed like it would be a little similar. It wasn’t quite as cold today and I had to peel off some layers when we arrived. My husband was laughing at me because I seemed to put on every layer I had just because I finally could. The car park was fairly full when we arrived so we expected some crowds but it does handle them well so it didn’t feel too crowded. From the car park, you are funneled into a gift shop. We assumed this was where you purchase tickets but there was no sign indicating this. There were a few people in line but they all had items in their hands to purchase. So we thought it was like Disney World where they entice you with gift shops everywhere and the real entrance was further inside. We walked into the Folk Park not realizing it was really the Folk Park and not another area to sell food/drinks/souvenirs. By the time we made our way to the castle, we finally realized we somehow missed the place to buy tickets and didn’t know where we went wrong and how we got into the park.

    The castle was great. My mom and dad visited it years ago for the banquet and were chosen to be the king and queen. So we had a good laugh imagining them when we were in the banquet room. It was relatively crowded so negotiating the tight spiral staircases with up/down traffic took some patience. There were interesting buildings in the Folk Park like the old farmhouses and the school with a boys and girls sides. It wasn’t as involved as Williamsburg but it was a nice day to wander around and enjoy it. When we left, we still didn’t see any ticket line/entrance but it had to be somewhere.

    From here, we made our way to a shopping mall on the outskirts of Limerick. We had to return the shirts to H&M that didn’t fit right. Walking through the mall filled with shoppers and families on a Saturday felt like we were in any American mall with just different named stores. We quickly made the return and got the kids some food. My husband and I were still full from the big breakfast.

    Next stop, or rather drive through, was Adare. I had read it was a cute town with thatched roof cottages and a castle and it was only about a 15 minute detour from our route. We got there about 1ish and it was packed. Bumper to bumper traffic moved slowly along the main drag and the sidewalks were crowded with people. We drove through once, did a u-turn and drove back through again. It looked like a lovely and very charming town, different than the towns we had seen nearer the coast. Traffic was definitely slow enough that we could get a good view of everything from the car. But it seemed like too much of a hassle to try to find parking and fight the crowds which is a shame as I think we would have enjoyed checking it out a bit closer.

    On our way back to Dublin, we decided to stop at Cahir Castle and the Rock of Cashel since we couldn’t on our way to Kinsale. Prior to the trip, I had the kids look at both Cahir and Kilkenney Castle and decide which one looked more interesting. They both chose Cahir Castle, hands down. They are much more a fan of medieval castles than ones decorated from the 1800s. They were not that enthralled with the William III side of Hampton Court Palace or Napoleon’s apartments at the Louvre. But they couldn’t get enough of Castle of the Counts in Ghent and the few castles here in Ireland like Blarney, Bunratty and the O’Dea castle. For me, I had read the first few Outlander books years ago but had just started watching the TV series while on this trip. The beautifully filmed series, even though it was set at a Scottish castle in the 1700s, really put the castles we were seeing in better perspective as to what daily life might have looked like.

    It was an easy 1 hour drive to Cahir and the Castle did not disappoint. It was my son’s second favorite after the one in Ghent. They had an exhibit on the Easter rising plus there was a short video on the castle and others in Ireland. One interesting display was a large small-scaled model of the castle being attacked by a large number of ground forces. I can’t remember the details but it was fascinating how little defense the castle seemed to offer. It was taken over within a day. The Castle is right in town so afterwards we found a place in town to get some ice cream.

    Our next stop was 20 minutes north at the Rock of Cashel. On our first day, driving south from the airport, we did pull over here to use the restroom. Approaching from the north, you get a fabulous view of the Rock and it is worth pulling over to take some pictures. Coming from the south, you drive through the town so don’t see it until you are there. I had already learned the kids weren’t as interested in ruins so they weren’t as excited about the Rock as my husband and I were. This was much more crowded than other places we had been too. The ruins really are quite spectacular and it is such a beautiful setting on a hill overlooking gorgeous countryside with those lush green pastures. They are doing some restoration so part of it was covered in scaffolding and tarps. Even though the kids were done with sightseeing, we spent a fair amount of time there.

    It was getting to be late in the day and we were 1 ½ hours from our last hotel, the Premier Inn near the Dublin airport. We checked in and had the same type of family room as we had in London, one queen bed and 2 twin beds. It was comfortable and quiet. We went into Swords to grab dinner and then came back to sit at the hotel bar and watch the Germany/Italy quarterfinal which ended in a shootout, so that was fun.

    We had an 11:30 flight home Sunday morning and arrived at the airport by 8:30. We returned our car to Hertz without incident. The only issue we had with the car is we could not figure out how to easily open the back hatch. It was a two man job with one person hitting the button on the driver door while another pulled up on the hatch. The button on the key fob did not work. We mentioned it to the attendant and he showed us that you can push in the VW medallion on the hatch door and it pops right open. So now we know if we ever rent a VW wagon again!

    We took the shuttle over the terminal and went though security. A couple toiletry items we had purchased at Boots were larger than the allowed 3 oz. I still brought them hoping they might let them through as I hated the thought of wasting them. The guy tossed my stuff but my husband got his shaving cream through. Our gate hadn’t yet been posted so we grabbed some pastries for breakfast in the large area by duty free. They finally announced we could head to immigration since you go through on the Dublin side not the US side. My husband has Global Entry but my kids and I do not. He was finished with his breakfast before us so he left to head through immigration first.

    You have to go through security a second time and I don’t know why. Both before security and after there are little kiosk machines to scan your passports, take your photo and print out your immigration form. We did not do it before security and there was no wait at the machines after security. The three of us quickly scanned our passports, had our picture taken (my son photo bombed both of ours which looked hysterical) and got our forms to hand to the officer.

    Once we were at the gates, there is very little in terms of food and drink available. So I am happy we got breakfast before we went to our gate. Everywhere my daughter goes she finds loose change on the ground that people have dropped. Throughout the trip she had found about €1.80 and she wanted to use the money to buy a treat at the airport for the plane ride. She said it was the most satisfying bag of gummies she has ever had.

    We lined up at the gate as they started boarding and were the first in Group 1 to board. The attendant took us through the jet way door to a man who pulled us mysteriously to the side. I jokingly, but hopefully, asked if he was upgrading us. He laughed, said no and he proceeded to drill us on our vacation, what we did, where we stayed, what we did for a living, where the kids went to school, their favorite subject (I prayed my son wouldn’t say PE—thankfully he said history). Then he sent us on our way and wished us a good journey. It was all very odd. Once on the plane, my husband heard a few other people talking about also being pulled aside and questioned. We don’t know why they were doing this.
    Our flight was uneventful and it was a real pleasure to fly through the day and not overnight. We arrived back in Philadelphia a bit early and headed off on the hour drive home. The best part of coming home is always being greeted by our dog. It is never completely depressing to end a vacation when you know what is eagerly awaiting your return at home.

    I still had to deal with filing a claim with Ryanair to reimburse us for our purchases. It was easy to submit the claim with copies of the receipts online. The next day I received an email that they had approved our claim and I would need to sign on and provide my EU bank account information or confirm the address they had was correct to send us a check. I signed on and all they asked for was an EU bank account which I did not have. There was no place to confirm our address or let them know we did not have an EU account. Plus, there was no email address to send a message.

    I finally did an online chat with someone in which I had to wait 15 minutes to be connected. I explained the situation, gave him our information and he came back and said they were still awaiting information from us. I know, but I can’t get that information to them! I also said that I needed the check to be in US$ or money added to it to cover conversion fees and he replied that it would be given in the currency spent. He told me to go to Contact us and file a complaint under “other complaints”. So I did that and explained the situation and requested a check in $ or an additional €30-40 to cover costs.

    Two days later, I received an email that they were mailing us a check in $ which covered all of the expenses at the current exchange rate. We received that check about 10 days later. It was a bummer to not have our luggage for most of our Ireland leg but at least it didn’t cost us money other than the $50 we had to pay for 5 days of Verizon coverage with the TravelPass. Although, that all didn’t go to waste because it gave us access to the Internet while we were touring.

    Overall the trip was great and we made some phenomenal memories. I’m so happy to have finally taken the kids abroad. I think a lot of people have the false idea that it costs a lot more money to travel abroad when really this vacation cost us no more than ones we’ve taken at home. I didn’t have the opportunity to leave the country until my junior year in college and it was life changing for me. I truly believe getting out of your comfort zone increases your self confidence. Your outlook and empathy are also tremendously broadened by traveling and living amongst different cultures. Since we’ve been home, it has been great watching the kids notice different reference points to places they’ve been that have been in the news or in movies/ TV shows/ books.

    Now to figure out where we go next. So many places, so little time.

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    Wow wow WOW! Your family took a trip very similar to ours in 2012, except you did Ireland while we did Yorkshire. We loved Jardin du Luxembourg, too, and our daughters (twins age 13 when we traveled) would probably rank it even with the Louvre and Tour Eiffel.

    We had the same issues with phones on that trip, but luckily did not have any luggage problems. I'm an absolute drill sergeant about traveling carry-on only, so the four of us have learned how to live comfortably out of a backpack for up to two weeks.

    Loving your itinerary and so glad to see that more people who realize the value of travel in raising kids. For the cost of a week in Disneyworld, we can do two weeks in Europe.

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    ”you are funneled into a gift shop” Always the same story!

    What you said is so true:

    I truly believe getting out of your comfort zone increases your self confidence. Your outlook and empathy are also tremendously broadened by traveling and living amongst different cultures.

    Again, super TR. Brava!

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    ”you are funneled into a gift shop” Always the same story!>>

    there is a whole BBC radio comedy series [in fact several series] which uses the ubiquity of the gift shop as a running gag.

    Kudos to you for your persistence in getting your compensation - it's very amusing that Ryanair's form doesn't actually allow for people to be paid except in € and has no return email address.

    no wonder there were all those jokes about them charging to use the loos.

    Thanks for taking the trouble to finish it too - it was well worth the effort.

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    I've just come across your trip report, because we were also toodling around (Northern) Ireland when you wrote it. I have to say it's one of the best trip reports I remember reading.

    You seem to have done an excellent job of taking into account the interests of your kids. Too many parents drag their kids to every single "must-see" and end up turning them off art and history altogether. If they've already "seen", for example, Westminster Abbey, at the age of 12, and didn't really appreciate it, they may pass on the experience of seeing it with more mature tastes later in life.

    I'm glad you didn't let the luggage experience drag down your mood. We also had one lost suitcase this summer, passing through Belfast Airport. In our case, we got the bag super quickly, because the delivery guy realized we were staying near where he lived and volunteered to drop it off on his way home.

    Actually, we suspect that the bag didn't make the connection because my daughter-in-law had put some sort of high-tech luggage tag on it. It's possible that the tag was so clever that it raised a red flag at security.

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    Thanks bvlenci! I'm looking forward to returning and visiting the northern part of Ireland in the future.

    colduphere--in case you happen to look at this--- did you do a bike trip in Ireland? We saw a bunch of bikers and it terrified me on the busier roads because there were no shoulders and you had crazy right side drivers driving on the left, sometimes not well. Just curious if you were brave enough to bike and how it was.

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    Great TR - thanks! Appreciate your persistence and writing skill to get all that detail down. Your children will have absorbed so much from being exposed to the marvelous variety of these travels. Even losing your luggage, a good life's lesson, will have armed them for just this situation should it ever happen to them - heaven forfend. :)

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