A Week in Yorkshire: Part One – A Day in Whitby

We recently spent a week staying in the beautiful North York Moors area. Thomas’s school broke up about 10 days before the main school holidays for most English schools, so we took advantage of going away during the week before most schools had broken up for the summer. We stayed in a lovely self catering cottage about 4 miles outside of Pickering.

Our first full day in Yorkshire was one of bright sunshine and we decided to drive across the moors to Whitby. It’s a town that has somehow captured a special place in my heart. I grew up with a beautiful watercolour painting of the Abbey on the wall in our hall. In my mind’s eye it’s always frozen in time, a combination of memories of childhood visits 30 years ago, plus – I’m sure – the influence of Heartbeat having been standard Sunday night television viewing in my house back in the nineties!

Of course, Whitby has moved on, but I was pleased to rediscover all of it’s beauty and charm that persists even if it isn’t quite in the time warp I like to imagine!

We parked on the harbour-side by the station, which is the terminus for the North Yorkshire Moors Railway – an adventure which was not to be missed with our train obsessed boy and will be coming up on another day.

Our first target was the Abbey itself, perched atop the East Cliff. We wandered up through the town and rather than climb the 199 steps at the front, we took the slightly longer but more sloping route which seemed a little easier for the ascent, plus it gives lovely views back over the town.

Whitby Abbey is owned by English Heritage. Along with the National Trust, this is an organisation that I’m quite happy to belong to not just for the benefit of free entry to such beautiful properties, but also because I value the work that they to do and am happy to support them in preserving England’s rich history. That said, it is good value too, especially as kids are free with adult membership!

We spent a good chunk of time exploring the ruins of the Abbey before descending the 199 steps back in to the town for Fish and Chips, swiftly followed by ice cream on the small beach by the harbour. Of course there was time for skimming stones and climbing the rocks too.

We then climbed up the West Cliff to take in the classic view of the Abbey that I remember from that painting in my childhood home and which also inspired Bram Stoker in the creation of Dracula more than 125 years ago!

We had a very chilled out few hours and of course there is plenty to do that we simply didn’t have the time for, including the Whitby Museum, the Whitby Brewery, coastal cruises and whale watching. Whitby is definitely on our list for a return visit though, perhaps spending a couple of nights in the town itself.

For more information see Whitby Online, Visit Whitby and Discover Yorkshire Coast

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A Christmas Trip to Brussels by Eurostar


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!)



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!








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!




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!”




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.




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!











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!



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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!

Our Berlin City Break

Ian and I have always loved to travel. We’re not really “holiday” lovers in a traditional sense. There is limited appeal for either of us in lying on a beach getting hot, sandy and sunburned. Rather we love to see new places, experience different cultures and try alternative foods. That said, it should come as no surprise that our preferred travel trip has often been the city break. Short trips to new places, packing as much as possible in to a long weekend in a foreign land. In the years immediately before we got married we’d travelled to a diverse range of places from Marrakech to Kiruna, New York to Brussels. But our last “city break” was a trip to Paris to celebrate our first wedding anniversary when I was around 18 weeks pregnant with Thomas. That was more than three years ago.

We never consciously decided that we couldn’t do city breaks with a child in tow. But I had some pretty strong reservations. I couldn’t get my head around the accommodation. I didn’t (and still don’t, if I’m honest) understand how people could go away and stay in a single hotel room with their small children. What do you do once they reach their bedtime? Sit in silence in the dark with them? Granted we have an exceptionally poor sleeper, but I couldn’t imagine it working. I also had big concerns about managing a pushchair on a lot of public transit systems, as many I’ve experienced are anything but pushchair friendly. And even airport transfers became a conundrum. It’s a long time since we were “budget” travellers and whilst I have no objection to buses or trains, I’ll be honest and say that the option to jump in a taxi is a nice one to have when you are hot, tired and face an hour’s wait until your next train. With a child in tow – and no car seat – that instantly became a non-option.

Probably as a result of these niggling concerns, since Thomas was born we’ve stuck to pretty family-friendly holidays. Self-catering, farm stays and Center Parcs. Of course we’ve enjoyed those trips enormously, but I did still miss our old spontaneous weekends away.

This July we both had some time booked off. I’d booked the week a long time ago, as it coincided with Ian’s birthday and is a week we’ve traditionally gone away for. This year we hadn’t got around to booking anything and I’d begun to plan for having it as a week off at home, with Thomas still in nursery (judge me all you like!) to get some stuff done. Then our second IVF cycle failed. We decided that we needed a break from the norm. A chance to get away. And something to look forward to. So we began considering a city break.

In choosing a location, we looked at the long list of cities we have that we want to visit. We ruled several out easily as a bit too far away, to expensive or not very family friendly. The one that kept coming up over and over was Berlin.

Everyone kept telling me how family friendly it is, and how much there is for kids to do. It was a different way to consider a city, as our previous criteria in choosing a destination did not, for obvious reasons, include child-friendliness at all. I re-read, and re-read again, the excellent posts by Jennifer about her family’s trip to that city last year. We knew that all of the trains and other transport, plus the Loxx Miniatur model railway would, between them, ensure that Thomas was in heaven. We discovered an easy train connection between the airport and the city, which erased my transport concerns. The we found an apart-hotel complex. A hotel that also offered two bedroom apartments, complete with kitchenette. Better still, the price for when we wanted to go was comparable to a “normal” hotel room. My concerns about accommodation were wiped out too.

So we booked it. Four nights in Berlin with a two year old.

It’s taken me a while to get around to starting this write-up. That is in part because I’ve been having a bit of an internet and blogging break, but also because I’ve struggled a bit to know where to begin. We had such a fantastic time. Although our pace was necessarily different to how it might have been had we been without Thomas, we still packed an enormous amount in, including plenty of train and tram trips, some history in the form of the Berlin Wall memorial garden and Brandenburg Gate, trips up tall buildings (the Fernsehturm and the Reichstag Dome), plus lots of family activities such as the Loxx model railway, the Zoo and Aquarium, and the Lego Discovery Centre. We took hundreds of photos which I’m still trying to edit down now.








Thomas, true to form, loved the trains and trams. He loved repeating back the words he picked up from German announcements. And he enjoyed each of the places we visited, throwing himself in to looking at and exploring everything.

We all enjoyed the food, and Ian and I enjoyed the beer. No matter how many times I travel to mainland Europe, I still cannot really get over the fact that you can purchase half a litre of good quality beer for less than 1 euro! Well, we needed something to keep us going when Thomas was still refusing to sleep at midnight!





Of course it wasn’t all absolute plain sailing, and I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t hard work. Thomas refused to sleep pretty much at all, and was definitely even worse than at home in that respect! I can’t say the week was relaxing at all. But most importantly it was a lot of fun, and we definitely plan to do more city breaks again in future, so it definitely counts as a success!