It was difficult choosing where to go for our first trip away. With only 10 days and the weather being so variable we decided we’d just assume wherever we went there would be rain and to choose activities accordingly. We’re a big fans of lego and when I checked how far it was to the home of lego in Billund, Denmark it looked feasible so then it was a case of seeing how many days it would take to get there, stop a few days then drive back but taking a different route so we could explore new towns. It means we’re crossing 5 countries but the largest amount of our time will be in Germany. Our planned stops are Antwerp (Belgium), Essen (Germany), Bremem, Hamburg, Billund (Denmark), Hanover, Dusseldorf and Brussels (Belgium).

Whereas the big summer adventure was months in the planning this is definitely more a case of turn up and see but of course I still have my spreadsheet and planned at least one thing a day 😉 Turns out it was needed too, the activity planned for Hamburg was completely sold out so we had to buy the upgraded package just to get tickets! I also found out for 2 weeks a year in Bremen they have a huge festival and as luck would have it we are going to be there so we were able to plan a short onward drive that night so we can stay longer. Our sites are all very basic on the basis that we should be fairly self sufficient with our bathroom and bigger kitchen so we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve not had the best week leading up to the trip with illness which meant packing didn’t happen until the last minute and then we were late setting off so any ideas we had of getting on an earlier train we’re completely gone.

The benefit of the better sleep from single beds for the kids has been counter balanced by their naughtiness whilst sat closer together during the driving. At one point whilst on the phone sorting out a work issue Liliya is screaming because Robert has taken her pens (at the request of Al) because she’d coloured on his face 😳 Threats of loss of privileges have been well and truly handed out! We also forgot to buy the headlight adapters so pull in to a services close to Folkestone. At this point it’s obvious we’re not even going to make our booked train so for the sake of my sanity I decide to put a movie on for the kids so at least the next 90 minutes we can travel in silence and it will keep them awake.

We’re able to catch the train an hour later and the beauty of Le Shuttle is that it’s completely stress free, we’re just automatically booked onto the next one when you drive up to the barrier and the number plate recognition auto checks you in without having to speak to anyone.

By 10pm UK / 11pm France time we’re off again. Our first overnight stop was actually supposed to be in Belgium but we wouldn’t get there until 12.30am local time so we get the details for the site we were originally supposed to stay in on our summer holiday that was closed due to the circus. It means we’ll have a longer drive in the morning but at least the kids might not be quite as grumpy.

As we turn off the motorway and get to the first roundabout we encounter our first problem, the road has a low bridge of 2.8m and we’re 3.1m! Al manages a quick U-turn and thankfully the next exit is also going in the same direction just a slightly longer route.

About 5 mins before we arrive Liliya has fallen asleep so I think we’ve made the right call, we’ve got a better chance of her going back to sleep now than if she’d had an hours power nap.

We all sleep fairly well but this weather is atrocious and I certainly remember waking in the night due to the rain. Turns out we’ve also got a problem, there’s a leak coming in from Liliya’s bedroom window so her mattress and sheets are wet. Luckily we’re parked at a supermarket so Al heads inside to try and find duct tape whilst I get the kids up and dressed. Feeling pleased I bought the waterproof mattress protector and there’s a laundrette here so sheets striped off and 12 minutes later they are all dry and fresh once more.

This weather isn’t great to drive in and the roads are so busy, it’s not even typical commuter time. By the time we arrive at the park and ride it’s now time for lunch which given the weather works out better to eat in the dry inside rather than as we’re walking about the town. The P&R works really well, free to park and it’s a tram ride into the centre which takes about 15 minutes.

When researching what to see it did suggest a famous chocolate museum but given we did one of those in Bruges in the summer I opted for the Print museum formally known as the Plantin-Moretus Museum.

It is the only museum to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is the original home and printing house of the Plantin-Moretus publishing family with the oldest printing presses in the world. Liliya was not amused to start with (not grumpy from the lack of sleep) but then when she was told there would be a prize for completing the children’s trail she soon perked up. From the outside you really can’t appreciate how large the inside is. The kids trail is really engaging, they have to search in each room to find hidden animals that might be in paintings, books, fireplaces etc.

In the garden they also enjoy a game of animal twister.

Whilst Liliya was twisted up sure shouted ‘this hurts’, I told her she didn’t have to play and could stop at any time but she’s too stubborn for that so since neither of them were giving up I had to tell them just one last move each then the game is done.

We got to see a double harpsichord which is apparently one of only four of its kind left in the world.

I was impressed with how well they have tried to engage the kids and Liliya enjoyed dressing up in the olden days clothing and then making their own comic stories from a selection of pictures.

I feel we could have learnt a lot more by taking a tour or the audio guide but not something the kids would have found interesting. We did keep bumping into a tour group though and I overheard a great story about how Abraham Lincoln adopted the decimal system for money from a book he owned that they had a copy of here. It’s definitely a place for a book lover too with a huge collection on display and in the library.

We rushed through the final part as the kids were now dying of thirst, thankfully the heavy rain had stopped so after finding a corner shop for a drink we decided to have a look around the town. It’s really large and was hard to find the more touristy shops but we spot the cathedral and head in that direction. It’s beautifully impressive from the outside, we consider going in but didn’t think the cost was worth it especially as it wasn’t long until it closed. We did find a fantastic sculpture just outside and the buildings here are beautiful.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Belgium without getting beer or chocolate so Al gets a couple of fancy beers and the owner let’s the kids choose some really fancy beer mats, we also chatted about some nearby towns that he recommends so we may end up going to one rather than Brussels since we’ve been there with Robert before.

We next treat ourselves to a couple of chocolates each then decide it’s time to get back to the moho to start cooking. The kids are looking tired and we decide maybe it’s better to eat out, we walk past a poke bowl shop and our minds are made up. The kids have never had one before and they think it’s amazing, Robert is especially excited that he can choose to have sushi salmon with mango pieces topped with mango sauce.

With no fresh cooking the food is served within a few minutes so it was definitely worth it and both kids ate really well, they also loved the jungle decor.

Bellies full we’re right by the underground and it’s a short wait for our tram. It’s a real shame it’s not possible to drive whilst the kids are tucked up in bed but we can tell they are going to fall asleep pretty quickly so we get them into their PJs and sure enough Liliya is out within minutes, Robert’s not far behind. Given they are both asleep we decide to change our overnight stop to drive further tonight so there’s less driving in the morning. Annoyingly leaving Antwerp there’s a 30 minute delay on the roads too which doesn’t help. Within less than 12 hours we’ve been in four countries - France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany.

We almost stepped on Dutch land to fill up with fuel but the motorway prices were insane so we kept going straight through. 5 minutes before our stop we pulled in to a petrol station and found both kids wide awake! Not usually the best sign but hopefully as its late they’ll at least lay down and get back to sleep soon. We found this ball of cuteness in the shop so brought it back for Liliya.

Our base for tonight is now just 35 mins away from tomorrow’s first stop rather than 90. It’s hard to see what’s here other than parking but we spot a few dog walkers and apparently there’s a hill we can climb in the morning to get a nice view of the surrounding area.