Train Odyssey Day 13: A Kid’s Day Off in Bruges

After some serious train travel on Day 12, the Younger Fives really needed a day off. So, it was perfect that we had an entire day to spend in Bruges, Belgium where they could take the lead. As soon as we stepped outside of our hotel on a very sunny Sunday they were in charge of picking what we should see and do in this lovely canal lined city.

The kids were immediately enamored by the green spaces all along the perimeter of the city, and so we walked along the canal enjoying the towering trees, green grass, and open spaces to run free. The first half of the day was all about playgrounds. The kids were super excited to find two American playmates on one of the larger playgrounds (they were visiting Bruges from Germany, where their father is stationed with the military).

From there we had a special surprise in store for High Five. When we visited Venice, Italy this past December he was very disappointed that we didn’t take a gondola ride. After reading about the open-air (and reasonably priced) boat tours of Bruges’ canals we knew that this would be the perfect chance to make it up to him. The boat tour lasted about 30 minutes (perfect for little kids) and it cost the whole family less than 25 Euros. High Five had a blast leaning over the railing of the boat and trying to pet the passing ducks and swans. While a bit chilly on the water it was a great way to see the gorgeous buildings of Bruges, and it seemed to more than make up for the missed gondola ride.

Next the kids headed towards the four remaining windmills on the eastern edge of the city (there used to be more circling Bruges). These windmills date back to the 18th Century, although some have been refurbished since. While the kids have seen plenty of modern day wind turbines, these beautiful wooden windmills were really fun to check out. The area around them is all park and we were joined by many people out enjoying the gorgeous afternoon.

Finally it was time to eat. While finding vegan food while traveling is not always so easy our relaxed day carried over to our shopping trip to the local grocery store. The kids helped us scan through the many chocolate offerings to find more vegan treats, and since we didn’t partake in any of Bruge’s famous double fried french fries we picked up a few bags of local potato chips to round off our falafel sandwiches. Since our hotel room is super small (think college dorm room) we soaked up the last of the sun while picnicking outside near the train station. With no mess to clean-up and lots of yummy chocolate in our bellies everyone declared the day a huge success.

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Venice on the Cheap with 3 Kids

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We really wanted to visit Venice, Italy before heading to the Balkins in a couple of weeks. However, Venice is not a cheap city to experience, and with it being the birthday and Christmas season our funds are a little limited right now. So, instead of missing out on Venice all together we sat down as a family and designed an inexpensive visit to Venice that would leave us all feeling satisfied. Below are our tips that allowed us to have a mostly smooth trip without breaking the bank.

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Pick the right time of year to visit –
Venice is an extremely popular tourist destination. When reading other travelers’ reviews we were given a very good sense of how crowded it can be. We are no fan of crowds and so were very fortunate to have been able to visit Venice in the off-season. The third week of December proved to be a great time of year to avoid the throngs of tourists and snag inexpensive hotel accommodations. Another benefit of visiting in December was being able to enjoy the holiday decorations. The huge Christmas tree in Saint Mark’s Square was an amazing sight!

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Travel light –
Just thinking about navigating Venice with suitcases and three kids in tow makes us break out in a nervous sweat. Venice is not a luggage friendly city. There are no taxi cabs waiting at the station door and there are many bridges with lots of steps between you and your hotel. You can hire a water taxi at a very high price, but even then you need to get your bags down the stairs of the station and into a boat. We had the luxury of sticking to small backpacks for our trip, which allowed us to enjoy the city without the hassle of our suitcases.

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Think picnics instead of 3 course meals –
Before our arrival in Venice we were prepared that the restaurants would be over-priced and sub-pare. No guide book that we read had anything positive to say about eating out in Venice. However, we weren’t prepared for how difficult it was to be vegan in Venice. The usual “cheese-free” pizza that we have found throughout Italy was hard to come-by and we only found one gelateria with just 2 vegan friendly flavors. Even then the cost was much higher then we have ever encountered and the server gave us a hard time about combining flavors (never run into that before in Italy). However, we were pleasantly pleased to find three supermarkets tucked in along the main tourist areas of the city. Wandering between the train station, the Rialto, Saint Mark’s, and the Academia we stumbled upon a Billa, a Coop, and a Simply Market. Each of these was well stocked with bread, fruits, chocolate, and prepared foods for take-away. These supermarkets made it super easy for us to pick-up inexpensive picnic fare and enjoy our meals alongside the canals.

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Enjoy the views from outside –
Many of the larger tourist attractions in Venice charge an entrance fee. Since we had limited time and energetic kids we decided to skip the museums and palace tours on this trip, and just concentrate on soaking up the ambiance of the city. We figured that we can go to other museums, but when will we ever get to explore such a unique city again? The kids were all for this plan and had a blast climbing over bridges and running down narrow streets. With no cars around we didn’t have to hold hands or stress, and no one fell into a canal, not that Five Ball didn’t try his hardest 🙂

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Cut your visit short –
Unlike Rome we found that a short visit to Venice was definitely sufficient. Since we spent most of our time walking the city to experience its unique car-less effect, we found that an overnight was plenty of enough time. We arrived mid-morning, spent the night, and were ready to head home by the next afternoon. This helped keep our costs low and kept us from needing downtime for the kids. We kept them busy sight seeing and they all slept on the train ride home 🙂

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To boat or not to boat –
Our only snag on our trip to Venice was the boat issue. Obviously there is a lot of boat traffic in Venice and some of it looks very enticing, especially to kids. Gondola rides are super expensive starting at 80 Euros for 40 minutes. Before our trip we talked as a family about how we didn’t have the funds for a gonadal ride. We were hoping to make up for it by taking a  traghetti, which are gondola boats that ferry you across the canal for just a few Euros. Unfortunately there weren’t any in service during our visit (the weather was rainy and it was December?). We considered taking a trip down the Grand Canal on a Vaporetto (Venice’s public transportation option) but again the prices are high and the boat looks like a beat-up subway car. If we were in Venice for longer we would have taken a Vaporetto out to one of the islands and made a day out of it, but for now we will just have to live with the fact that High Five will forever remind us of how we deprived him a boat ride in Venice.

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Pancake (and Pelican) Picnic

Note: We apologize about the recent string of picture posts (and post titles alliterating with the letter “p”— likely one-too-many times viewing Mr. Popper’s Penguins). Our internet connection has been tenuous at best these last few weeks, and we are trying to catch up on work. While this post may not be chock full of words, if you look at things from a different picture perfect perspective, it really has thousands.

A Kid’s Tour of Quebec City

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Taking the ferry from Levis.

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Viewing the city from across the St. Lawrence River.

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A ride on the Funiculaire.

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Looking for wind gods at the top of Le Château Frontenac.

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A picnic in front of the Parliament building.

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Enjoying the beautiful scenery.

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Shopping for maple candy.

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Finding an amazing playground in the heart of the city.

A Day in Pictures at Argyle Shore Provincial Park, Prince Edward Island

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A frigid waterfall contrasts with the warmer waters of the Northumberland Strait.

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A beautiful contrast of fields and red shores.

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Plenty of picnic tables and room to run around.

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A view of one of the dramatic red cliffs.

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Nana Five giving a boogie board ride to Five of Hearts and Five Ball.

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Low tides exposes much more beach and interesting places to explore.

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Going down the slide is great…

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But more than one is much more fun!

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Five Ball experiments with gravity.

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One last look before we head home for the day.