I’m trying to find the online version of an article in Today’s PiPress. This is really hard.
Searching for the author’s name doesn’t work. Copying the headline from the PDF version of the front page and pasting it into search doesn’t work.
I Googled for the headline, the only result – Chuck’s posting of the article.
Here it is: On vacation, but still in the loop. Hi, I’m Garrick and I take my laptop on vacation. Especially to places I love.
Thanks to Julio, Chuck, and Google.
I forgot to mention all the blogging I did on that trip.
Re-reading those posts, looks like we’re just now flirting with the low end of the gas prices I saw in Europe 6 months ago.
Here are a few things I thought I’d share with you on traveling internationally with toddlers.
- Backpacks are better than strollers.
It’s far easier to get through airports, old European cities, and tour castles with Little C strapped to my back than in a terrain-sensitive stroller. As ill-fitting as our current Kelty is, I couldn’t imagine making the same trip with a stroller. That said, I was skeptical of the backpack when we left. Plus, he loves the view – you can see it in the eyes of the people we pass on the street.
- Regular schedules aren’t.
It shouldn’t go without saying that after traveling across 7 time zones our regular like-clockwork schedule wasn’t. Little C required quite a bit more cuddling and personal contact during the 3-4 days he took to adjust. We picked up a couple new board books for him and a few old toys he could rediscover. He slept on our shoulders and spent a lot more time in our arms. I’m good with that.
- They have babies there to.
Diapers, baby food, clothes, and all the stuff a toddler needs exists elsewhere – even in foreign countries. Only pack what you need for the travel itself. Our hosts’ car even had the LATCH system for Little C’s car seat. Just cause a place isn’t home don’t mean it isn’t civilized.
- Walk whenever you can.
Jen and I would take turns walking Little C around the gates at the airport and Jen walked him up and down the aisle on the trans-Atlantic flights. Sure kept him happier.
- Have them try the new foods.
Little C likes spicy interesting foods. On this trip, we discovered he loves pesto, taai-taai, calamari, and still doesn’t like cheese.
We’re back in Minneapolis. Probably the least eventful trans-Atlantic journey I’ve ever taken. A couple minor hiccups leaving BRU, but nothing that slowed us down. In fact, despite sitting on the tarmac in the rain for 45 minutes on departure and 20 minutes on arrival while the jet-way wouldn’t connect, then going through customs and security in ORD, we nearly made our original flight to MSP. But, we decided not to stress it and take the next one. Half our luggage went on the first flight and half on the second.
Little C held up like a champ. After 15 hours of travel, he still had a ‘vrooom, vroom’ left in him for each and every truck at the airport.
This time, it wasn’t the car seat with the TSA sticker, it was our mid-sized checked bag, with a sticker saying only:
‘Suspicious’ on slapped to the outside – and a TSA pamphlet on the inside.
Stepping outside of MSP, I got my first whiff of the winter. Cold. Pure, clean, unapologetic cold – like an ice cube to the lungs. Refreshing.
Visiting Belgium and not enjoying a big pot of mussels just isn’t worth the jet lag. So, last night, Jen and I walked down the street from our hosts’ house for dinner at Friture RenÃ© a small, traditional, steak, mussels, and fries place.
Yes, that’s all they serve: steak and mussels. Maybe 5 or 6 variations of each. Both come with fries and a side of mayo.
Each of the tables in the 3 main dining areas were draped with comfortable, white & red checked table clothes. We shared the back room with a wonderful, elderly French couple still enjoying their time together.
Our order was easy; 2 pots of mussels in white wine, 2 Duvals (in hindsight, 1 pot would have been enough).
A few moments later the shellfish arrived covered in onion, thyme and garlic, too hot to touch. Smelling and tasting fantastic – if just a hint fishy.
If you go, I highly recommend brushing up on the ways to signal you’d like to pay. Sitting quietly at an empty table and making eye contact with the wait staff doesn’t work.
I finally approached our server and asked in English how I should pay. She lifted her hand and rubbed her thumb against her index and middle fingers and said, “Receipt”.
The old French couple giggled all the way through this exchange.
Place de la RÃ©sistance 14
1070 Brussels (Anderlecht)
Cash only – no credit cards. Says right on the door.
Our amazing and wonderful hosts took us on a roadtrip on Saturday to a couple castles just outside of Brussels
Beersel – a Brusselian defensive castle from 1310. Visitors can fully explore it and on this day, the place was all ours. From the ground floor through the tight, steep, worn stone stairwell to the top of the tower. There were some tight spots with Little C on my back, I had a great time all the same.
The 700 year-old bricks making up the floor have sunken in leaving only the spider-web of mortor to walk on and if there ever was glass in any of the windows – it’s long gone. This doesn’t change the amazing views of the castle ruins and landscape from any angle.
Next, Kasteel van Gaasbeek – originating in 1240, Gaasbeek is comparatively larger and in better condition. Alas, it was closed for the day so we simply enjoyed a walked around the immaculate grounds.
From there, a quick drive to a tiny rural, Belgian cafe in an old brewery serving with only regional beers – like, my current favorite, Affligem. After a round of the Affligem Christmas and a flight of the house Gueze we were on our way.
Little C kept telling us how remarkable his emerging teeth were, so he wasn’t he bestest traveling companion.
Yesterday, we celebrated St. Nicolas Day. Five kids (15 months to 7 yrs) loaded up on chocolate, gingerbread, and taai-taai while awaiting the odd, rumbling noises (well-time washing machine) indicating Sinterklaas and his mischievous helpers, the Zwarte Piet, left presents somewhere in the house. Instead of chocolate, Cooper finished off the carrot we left for the Sint’s horse, Amerigo, the night before.
The festivities – like all things here – were refreshingly civilized. Youngest-to-oldest gifts were unwrapped, one-by-one. Then an adult returned to the basement for another round.
After lunch, I played a round of Candy Land with two Dutch boys (3 and 5 yrs old). Humbling and enjoyable at the same time.
While in general, the story of Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are the same – the specifics are far more interesting (I highly recommend David Sedaris’ retelling (“6-8 Black Men”). Also, the separation of this children-oriented gift-giving day with the more family-oriented Christmas feels much more comfortable than overloading everything into a single day.
Interesting conversation last evening about the price of iPods specifically, and ecommerce differences in general between the States and Belgium.
80 Gig iPod: $350 or â‚¬399
With the current exchange rate, that makes the European price tag: $529
For that price, it’d be worth flying to the States and loading up a suitcase. I saw a post earlier this week about people in England doing just that. If you saw that post as well, could you link it up in the comments. Thanks.
UPDATE: We spent the afternoon walking around the main shopping districts. The prices for clothing or grocery items with global brands seemed on even with the prices I’d see at home (post currency conversion). So, assuming the H&M at the Mall of America has the same inventory as the one in downtown Brussels – it doesn’t matter where you purchase it. Same for Pampers.
The biggest price distinction I’ve seen is on beer and wine. The quality and selection at the price point I’m most comfortable with – ~$10 – is far higher and wider. That’ll get you one Belgian beer at my neighborhood St. Anthony Village Liquors and a case of it here. Oh, and the cases are sturdy, plastic, and returnable.
Reminds me of the giant, community recycling bins for plastic, metal, and glass. We totally need them in the States.
UPDATE: Gas prices here run between â‚¬0.90 and â‚¬1.40 ($1.20 – $1.80) seems just a little lower than the prices at home…until you remember this price is per liter. Making the per gallon price: $3.40 – $5.60. Road congestion is just as bad in Brussels as any significantly dense city – even with the diversity of transit options (tram, subway, bus).
At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen compares the price of an iPod Nano across 26 countries
The first breath of air as I stepped off the plane brought a big smile to my face. The air here is a little mustier. A little earthier. A little more natural. The increased intensity of the smell are one of my favorite things about Belgium (and the Netherlands and Germany). The onions chopped for dinner – smell even more delicious.
We went for a long walk around Brussels’ city center last night on the way to dinner. A walk I’ve made a few times before. The first being a decade ago. Of course, the architecture that’s stood for hundreds of years is still here, but so is “Pita Street” – a small side street off the main plaza lined with gyro and falafel shops. Pita to pita. The smell of greasy lamb kabob followed us a couple more streets further to Babeko on Sint Katelijnplein. A tiny, African/French fusion restaurant where I discovered Ostrich steak with plantin banana in a cranberry and sweet onion sauce. Wow. Red, like a beef steak, with lighter, subtler flavors.
The service was impeccably French – with the expected Belgian lack of pretense .
We landed in Brussels a couple hours ago. Smoothest trip we could have imagined.
I let out a jet-lagged giggle at the ‘inspected by the TSA’ sticker on the car seat we checked.
We’re heading back north in the morning after a few days in Chicago. Huge thanks to the Dihiansan’s for a very enjoyable backyard dinner earlier in the week and the Smith‘s this evening. On both counts it’s great to see kids older than Cooper, where they’re at as people and how Cooper interacts with them. Not to mention a good adult conversation. Thank you both for sharing your lives with us – if only for an evening.
We spent this afternoon at Millennium Park – and I have to say, the bean, er – Cloud Gate is far cooler up close than the pictures depict. The sculpture needs dozens of people underneath it all searching for their reflections. By contrast, I wasn’t as impressed with the Spitting fountains. No, it didn’t spit while we were watching it. Sure, the fountains were nice as a public bathing pool and they did alleviate some of the inherent urban oppressiveness. But.
We walked up and down Michigan Avenue – always a good walk. Especially when you have no particular destination. Through it all – Cooper had a fantastic time. Laughing, giggling, making new friends, watching the storefronts and cars go by. He’s definitely more city mouse than country mouse.
Things we missed about Chicagoland that came right back; Joy Yee’s bubble teas, Giordano’s stuffed pizza, Lake Michigan.
Things we didn’t miss about Chicagoland that came right back; traffic, and the hour it takes to get anywhere.
Extra special thanks to Jen’s uncle for hosting us and a congrats out to Capital K for his engagement. Looks like we’ll be back next year ’bout this time.