Skip to content
Dec 9 / Caro

A Christmas Trip to Brussels by Eurostar

IMG_6512

I’ve loved Christmas markets for many years. Since the first time I experienced a “proper” European extravaganza of wooden huts, mulled wine and kitsch wares for sale. I can’t even put my finger on why wandering around in the freezing cold, browsing items from Christmas decorations and candles to chocolate and bakeware, is so exciting. Perhaps it’s the inherent festiveness in all the twinkly lights, sparkling decorations and Christmas music. Or maybe it’s just the lovely mulled wine after all!

We haven’t “done” a Christmas market since Thomas was born though. The thought of schlepping a small baby around in sub-zero temperatures suddenly made it lose its appeal. And then he got bigger, but I just didn’t think he would enjoy it. After all, he’d not be allowed any mulled wine!

But this year was different. And as with many things in our lives right now, it all came down to trains. Earlier this year, the Eurostar became Thomas’s overnight favourite train. He was obsessed with watching YouTube videos of them, and spotted pictures of them in the newspaper, the Hornby catalogue and the travel agents’ windows. Then, he started asking to go on the Eurostar. He understood completely that they go through a tunnel and he referred to them as “the trains that go under the sea.” So, call it my first defeat at the hands of pester power, but we began to consider a quick European trip. Ian immediately suggested Bruges, a beautiful city I’ve travelled to many times. The only problem with getting the Eurostar to Bruges is that means changing trains in Brussels. I suggested that we just do Brussels instead. And since we’ve been to the Christmas market there before and thoroughly enjoyed it, I also suggested we make it a Christmas market trip. It was easy not to think about the cold back in August!

So last Tuesday we got up bright and early for the short drive to Ebbsfleet. And it’s fair to say that Thomas absolutely loved the Eurostar. We opted not to get a separate ticket for Thomas. Children under four can travel free if sitting on an adult’s lap and we knew he’d want to be on us in order to get a better view out of the window. The tunnel portion is less than thirty minutes of the whole journey, so there is plenty to see! It turned out to be a good decision as I really doubt he’s have sat in his own seat for long. Once we arrived, he also loved catching a tram (“Tram! Tram! Tram! Tram!) from the station to our hotel.

The rest of the trip, however, his enjoyment was less clear cut and we suffered more than a good day’s quota of threenager meltdowns. We’d booked in to the Hotel Meininger via Expedia. As is usual, we weren’t able to check in until the afternoon, but we dropped our bags in to the left luggage room and then headed out for a wander around and to get some lunch. It turns out, though, that we perhaps hadn’t adequately managed Thomas’s expectations of the trip. Although we’d told him we would be staying in a hotel overnight, and had him help pack his bag Gruffalo Trunki, he was incredibly cross that we weren’t getting a tram straight back to the station to get the Eurostar home. In hindsight, getting up so early whilst also still recovering from a cold and a week of extra-poor sleep added to his grumpiness. Despite rarely using one at home, we’d taken the pushchair as we anticipated a lot of walking, and I was pleased that Thomas elected to take a nap, as I thought that was ease the strops. But here was my second mistake. I’d known it would be cold. Brussels is so near, yet slipping outside the jet stream, surprisingly much colder than home. I’d dressed Thomas in a vest, long sleeved T-shirt, wooly jumper, thick coat, scarf, hat and mittens. But the one thing I’d not taken was a blanket. And it turns out sleeping in a pushchair in freezing temperatures can make you really cold. So when Thomas awoke, far from being refreshed, he was a bundle of renewed grumpiness.

Fortunately an indoor fondue lunch and a spin around the big wheel cheered him up a bit, but after that we were subjected with renewed requests to get back on the Eurostar. We decided to head back to the hotel to see if our room was ready but the screaming reached such heights on the walk back, accompanied by vociferous complaining about a “hurty head” that we found ourselves in a Belgian pharmacy purchasing the equivalent of Calpol. (Yes, the pharmacist did ask if I was sure I didn’t want suppositories! And interesting they dose exactly by weight, meaning the syringes are marked not only with mls, but with weight markings. I don’t have a clue how much Thomas weighs – the pharmacist must have been performing internal eye rolls by now – but fortunately it clearly stated that it contained 32mg/ml allowing me to calculate the correct dose by UK dose standards. It turns out to be slightly more concentrated than its UK counterpart, and, according to Thomas, significantly LESS tasty!)

IMG_6596

IMG_6374

The return to the hotel helped. Not only did it allow us all to get really warm, Thomas clearly felt much more settled and finally said he didn’t want to go home yet! The hotel was certainly comfortable, if basic. It seemed very new, modern and clean. There was no bath, only a shower, in our room, and no fancy additions such as a kettle. It was a very large space though, with a large double bed plus a sofa doubling as a single bed for Thomas. The hotel had a bit of a hostel feel, and there were certainly several large groups of teenagers staying. Accordingly there was a “Guest Kitchen” and a 24 hour bar. It was a good price, and easily navigable from the Eurostar terminal and, with Brussels being pretty compact, all the main central areas. Perhaps best of all though, we had a view of the canal and a busy tramline and road, so Thomas could spot barges, trams and bendy buses from the window!

IMG_6390

IMG_6399

IMG_6400

IMG_6407

IMG_6409

IMG_6412

IMG_6416

In the late afternoon we headed back out and Thomas had a lot of fun looking at all the Christmas lights as we explored the Grand Place and surrounding areas before promptly falling asleep in his pushchair again. Two naps in one day is unheard of, so I knew he must really be feeling under the weather. We took the opportunity to have some dinner while he slept. When he eventually woke up we headed over to the main Christmas Market in Place St-Catherine. Since Thomas had missed dinner and was clamouring for food, we let him pick what he’d like to try. The choice was a fresh crepe filled with Nutella, which he polished off!

IMG_6438

IMG_6442

IMG_6443

Ian and I were both pleased to see that the carousel we’d loved on our last trip here in 2008 was still there. It is an amazing work of art. In the place of traditional horses are all sorts of whimsical things to sit on, including an octopus and a snail, a dinosaur, a submarine and a hot air balloon. There is an aeroplane suspended high up with its own little staircase to board it. And perhaps best of all, a rocket ship which “launches” as the ride spins, rising high enough to pass through the canopy atop the carousel. Last time we were here we were childless, and could not participate, so coming back with our won child to ride felt just a little bit magical. We opted not to suggest the rocket, however. On that last trip a little girl was sealed in (they secure the door to stop children falling out) and promptly began to scream as the rocket took off! Thomas chose the steam ship to ride in, and totally adored it. As seam poured from the funnels halfway through the ride he shouted “Wow. Look! Steam. Steam from the funnels!”

IMG_6448

IMG_6455

IMG_6456

We didn’t want to push our luck whilst Thomas was in a good mood, so we clued it a night not long afterwards.

Our previous experiences of all sleeping in one hotel room have not gone exactly smoothly (walking up and down the corridor more than 100 times pushing an over tired and excited child in a pushchair to get them to sleep, anyone?) But tiredness was definitely the theme of the day, and Thomas actually settled really well, leaving me with the opportunity to catch up on a few chapters of my book before we turned in ourselves.

The following morning we headed out to cafe we remembered from previous visits for a breakfast of waffles and hot chocolate. I was anxious to avoid a repeat of the previous day’s melt downs and avoid too much market browsing or shopping. The only trouble was that we hadn’t really done an awful lot of planning for this trip beyond getting the Eurostar and visiting the markets. Thomas suggested the solution by begging to be allowed to “go on the Brussels underground pleeeeeease.” So we caught the Metro out to the Atomium, which none of us have visited before.

IMG_6466

IMG_6516

IMG_6507

The Atomium is one of those slightly fascinating buildings, a giant molecular structure rising out the surrounding parkland. Several of the spheres are open as part of a tour of the building, which starts with the observation deck at the very top. It also includes a couple of spectacularly long escalators, and plenty of room for Thomas to run around. As you can see from the pictures, the weather was exceedingly grey and damp!

IMG_6494

IMG_6496

IMG_6517

IMG_6518

IMG_6521

IMG_6530

IMG_6539

IMG_6553

IMG_6569

IMG_6590

We then caught the Metro back to Place St-Catherine for more Christmas market browsing. We managed an impressive haul of chocolate, new Christmas decorations and a tin wind-up train for Thomas.

There was also plenty of Vin chaud drunk, and a family sized portion of Churros consumed, an absolute must before getting the Eurostar home again!

IMG_6592

IMG_6594

IMG_6606 IMG_6607 IMG_6609

Overall we did have a good time, despite some moments of frustration from Thomas . The Eurostar worked very well. We won’t hesitate to take another trip on it and would recommend it as a means of transport to parents of young children, especially if they happen to be train obsessed. But I think our next trip needs to be either a little warmer or involve less long periods outside! Of course, you can’t control getting ill around the time you go away, but I would certainly change Thomas being under the weather and us all fighting off colds if it were in my control! I suppose I’d also be a little less busy and stressed in the run up to going away, and do a little more planning, even if the trip is for less than 48 hours! But I still love Brussels as a destination, and have no doubt that we’ll be back!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail

4 Comments

leave a comment
  1. rachel / Dec 14 2014

    Brilliantly informative post that has totally made me want to visit Brussels… And go on that carousel! Xx

    • Caro / Dec 14 2014

      The carousel is amazing! There is actually a second very similar one as well. I’ve not seen anything else quite like them anywhere else in the world. Not sure if they don’t exist, or I’ve just not been looking hard enough! Brussels is definitely a great place, especially for a short trip.

  2. Melissa B / Dec 19 2014

    Lovely post!

    That escalator picture is absolutely fantastic – that’s one to print out & frame 🙂

    Glad you had a fun train-filled time!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. A Bit of Christmas Singing | Sweetener and Spice: Diabetes, Pregnancy, Parenting and Infertility
Leave a Comment

TOTS 100 - UK Parent Blogs