My husband and I just got back from a European adventure with four of our good friends and all our kids. Imagine three families (6 adults and 8 kids!) all visiting some of the best sights in Europe by train. Well it could have all ended in tears and although there were a few (sometimes there just aren’t enough waffles – even in Belgium!) we had so much fun! The kids range in age from 7 up to 14 so quite good ages really as the young ones are so inquisitive and the eldest was not too cool for school. We all kept to quite a strict budget by staying in serviced apartments so we could cook for ourselves if we liked – cheaper than a lot of hotels and loads of room to spread out. We only had 10 days so we had to be pretty clued up on what we wanted to see in each place.
First stop Amsterdam: One afternoon we took a canal boat tour which was a good way of understanding how the city is layed out – and the pretty houses you see from the water – plus we were all exhausted as had explored by foot for hours the day before. We looked after the youngsters while our friends went to the Anne Frank museum but we all went to the art museums and the kids enjoyed it – it’s quite accessible for kids. OK so here is a joke we have laughed at a lot… what cheese is made backwards? Edam. Get it? So anyway the kids found that hilarious but we did actually go to the small village of Edam near Amsterdam. We just hopped on the train and ended up having the best day on bikes riding through the countryside – and yes Holland has windmills galore and no kids – they are not used for making cheese!
From Amsterdam it’s an easy train ride to Bruges: What a picturesque little place that is. A chocolate box town and we found the best waffles there. We had a bit of family time too – it’s great going away with friends but every family works differently so we all decided to have at least a few days on the trip just as a family. We explored the town by foot and visited the famous church and markets and chatted about what we wanted to do next.
From Bruges we went to Brussels: I liked Brussels – lots of people say it is a bit serious but I found it quite a witty place with a touch of class – by witty I mean the famous statue in the grand place (I’ll let you look that up as I’m not sure I could decently describe it) but the kids were thrilled with the Tintin museum – amazing how the character developed in drawing style over the years – the kids just wanted to get in the gift shop! We introduced the kids to mussels and chips too. Amy (our daughter) counted the shells afterwards and her eyes were enormous as she told us she had eaten 22 mussels! It’s an acquired taste and I am proud of her for being so adventurous at just 10 years old. The other sight to see in Brussels is the Atomium – a weird building but with so much going on inside for the kids and great views from the top of the “bubbles”.
Talking of great views…. Well of course a trip to Europe would not be complete without Paris and it is surprisingly cool for kids. Montmartre was a race to the top (never again… those steps are only there if you don’t realise there’s the funicular!). But up at the top we all loved the main square (we got all the kids to sit there and have their cartoon done) We gave them crepes and we sat with a glass of wine – it was the quietest they had been all holiday. We had to see the Mona Lisa so headed to Le Louvre – having kids always makes you look at the world differently – they enjoyed the Pyramids on the square as much as any work of art and it was difficult to get them to go underground until we mentioned the Da Vinci Code and Tom Hanks – then the older kids were suddenly all ears… our family took the boat tour up and down the Seine and saw Notre Dame and we all then met up at the Eiffel Tower. Ruth (our eldest) and I went shopping in the afternoon and had some sneaky macaroons in Galleries La Fayette (mmm) but then we were all exhausted. We had a meal on the famous restaurant street in the Latin Quarter – a lot of red wine and a lot of cheese (but none made backwards).
The last 3 days were all about the castles. And only one of them was real. Versailles is breathtaking. It’s only a short ride on the train out there and then a walk and the grounds are amazing. Inside there are so many rooms I had to hold tight to Amy as I thought if I let go I would never see her again!. We all enjoyed a picnic and an ice cream down by the lake in the gardens too.
The grand finale was Disneyland Paris! We had promised all the kids two days with Mickey Mouse but secretly I think us adults were just as impressed. It’s such a lively colourful place and the kids were so excited and full of energy suddenly. Amazing how a museum sometimes makes you feel sleepy but no chance here. We all went on the rides, saw the shows and met Mickey Mouse. All in all an incredible experience to share with friends and family. I would not change it although doing all that in 10 days did require almost military planning in the months before – but it was worth it I think – just make sure you like your friends because you need to make a lot of decisions every single day – compromise is the word!