The Paschke Family
Travelers: Carrie Paschke, her husband Dan, their sons Micah (age 9) and Cameron (age 6), and their daughter Kinley (age 2). Micah and Cameron both attend The International Montessori School of Beijing.
Destinations: Breda and Amsterdam, Netherlands; Brussels, Belgium; Prague, Czech Republic.
Dates: September 26-October 6, 2013
Travel plans: The family flew from Beijing to Amsterdam via Frankfurt with Lufthansa. Afterwards, they took a train to Breda and rode in a friend’s car to Brussels. From Belgium, they flew to Prague with Brussels Airlines before catching another Lufthansa flight back to Beijing (with an unexpected stop in Seoul due to “fog”). The family booked and planned everything themselves with help from friends and travel websites.
Cost: Approximately RMB 67,000 in total. Flights to and from Beijing (and from Brussels to Prague) cost around RMB 10,000 per person. The hotel worked out to RMB 1,000 per night for the family and overall spending money came to about RMB 12,000 (including food, entrance fees, local transportation, and souvenirs).
We began our Europe trip in the Netherlands, staying with some good friends who recently moved to in Breda in the southwest of the country. Breda was very quaint and it is always more enjoyable to see a city with people who actually live there and know where to go.
Aside from seeing our friends, the highlights were a 16th-century Gothic church called the Grote of Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of our Lady) and the reptile house, where the kids got to handle snakes. We also got a chance to see the canals and the Royal Palace in the Netherlands’ lively capital, Amsterdam.
From the Netherlands, we hitched a ride with a friend to Belgium. The children would say that was the best country we visited due to all the chocolate. Micah celebrated his 9th birthday in Brussels, so he got to choose that day’s activities. He selected three museums. Of these, the boys particularly enjoyed Autoworld, where they got to see many models of automobiles, and the Museum of Armed Forces and of Military History, which houses old fighter jets and military tanks.
Our final stop was the Czech Republic, where the weather was beautiful, the air was clean, and you felt like you had stepped into the middle of a fairytale. It was lovely to wander the cobblestone streets of Prague and catch some of the city’s history, such as the Old Town, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle, and the medieval astronomical clock tower.
For me, the hidden gems of our trip were all of the beautiful parks in each city, like Cinquantenaire Park in Brussels. In addition to being scenic and lovely to look at, they made for great places to stop and rest for the adults and provided the kids with a chance to stretch their legs in between the day’s activities.
- Although its one of Belgium’s most famous landmarks, the Manneken Pis in Brussels was smaller than we expected. It may not be worth the time it takes to walk there.
- Supper time can be frustrating because many of the local restaurants in Breda and Belgium did not open for dinner until 7pm, making it difficult traveling with kids who get tired and hungry by 5pm and usually go to bed by 7.30pm. I would advise having lots on snacks on hand, preparing your own food from a local supermarket, or locating restaurants that are open all day in advance.
- This sort of trip is better suited for children that are no longer in diapers or strollers. Most of the cities were not stroller-friendly and finding a place to change diapers was a challenge. There was a lot of walking involved and public transportation can be tricky with kids who can’t get on and off a train, subway or tram on their own. If you must take a stroller, take a jogging stroller; a regular one would never make it on the cobblestone roads and uneven paths of Europe.
- The weather was cooler than we expected. So even though we brought layers, we still had to shop at a local mall for hats and mittens. We did not experience any rain, but it is quite common in September and October. Be prepared with raincoats and umbrellas.
- We were surprised to find that we had to pay to use public bathrooms. Carry lots of spare coins for such occasions because getting correct change when the little ones “have to go” can be tricky.
Photos courtesy of Carrie Paschke
This article originally appeared on p34-35 of the beijingkids November 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com