Babymoon in Europe: Part Three

The third leg of our trip consisted of a quick stopover in Belgium before we finished our trip back in London.  My husband’s favorite movie is the cult classic In Bruges, so the only reason we were making the trek to Belgium was so Lee could see it in person.  When making the arrangements to stop over in Belgium, Bruges didn’t have a hotel where I would be able to receive my discount.  In fact, they didn’t  have one of my hotels at all, so we opted to stay in Brussels to take advantage of the cheap room, but spend half of our layover in Bruges as it was only about an hour away by train.  Imagine my surprise when we got off the train and started seeing signs for the newest hotel in Bruges, the exact same brand that I work for.  As it turns out, the hotel had just opened a month before, but because I had made the Belgium travel arrangements so far in advance (and of course, never thought to double check after the hotel reservation was made) we missed out on the opportunity to fully take in the city.  Oh well.  At least we know for next time.  And I’m fairly certain there will be a next time.

Bruges was absolutely breathtaking.  Like Amsterdam, Bruges is a canal city, and is referred to as the Venice of the North.  Lee had researched all of the spots where In Bruges had been filmed, and so our day was basically spent retracing the steps of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

We visited the Belfry of Bruges, but the line to get in was incredibly long, and while I was game to climb the 366 steps to the top, Lee didn’t think that was the best idea.  Instead, we enjoyed a drink at a restaurant in the town square and admired the view.

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We only had about 4 hours to kill in Bruges, but we managed to fit in quite a bit of walking and drinking.  Well, Lee managed to fit in the drinking.  Considering I was 5 months pregnant, I had to stop every so often to either use a bathroom or rest my feet, and I always insisted I do so at a bar.  Just because I couldn’t drink didn’t mean my husband couldn’t partake in a delicious Belgian beer or two.

Then it was back to Brussels.  I was pretty exhausted from all of the walking, so we called it an early night.  We had most of the next day to sightsee before we had to catch our train.

I’ll be honest, I did some research before we went to Brussels to try to map out any sightseeing we might want to do, and I didn’t come up with a lot that I absolutely had to do or see.  Everyone makes such a big deal out of the Mannekin Pis statue, and I don’t know why.  It’s a tiny statue of a boy peeing.  We saw it, snapped a picture, and that’s it.  I won’t need to venture to that street corner again.

 

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Grand Place was beautiful, and I suppose if we were there for Christmas or to see the flower carpet that they build every couple of years that would be cool.  But there was nothing exciting going on when we were there.  We didn’t have time to do much else, so I can’t say that Brussels made that much of an impact on me.

We boarded the train late Thursday afternoon to head back to London.  We had one more full day in London to enjoy before we went home and jumped into full nesting mode.  I was excited to spend more time in London, but it was bittersweet.  London is our favorite place in the whole wide world, and yet, I had no idea when we’d be able to make it back.  We are so excited to be able to share our favorite city with our daughter someday, but want to make sure we bring her back at an age where she’s a bit more mobile and able to truly appreciate the experience.  As such, the last leg of our trip would be our last visit for the foreseeable future.

We started our day with a walk through St. James Park, up to Buckingham Palace, then through Green Park to Harrod’s.  I’ve always wanted to have lunch at Harrod’s and yet in all of the times I’ve been to London, I’ve never purchased so much as a coffee there.  That was going to change this trip!  We walked through their food halls, shopping for lunch and delicacies to take home.

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We hit up a couple more shops before making our way back to the hotel so we could drop off our bags before dinner.  We had dinner reservations at Lee’s favorite London restaurant:  Gino D’Acampo’s.  There are a few of Gino’s restaurants located throughout the UK, but the closest one to us was at Euston station.  That night, we were able to just sit back, relax with some delicious Italian food, reminisce about our lives together and share our hopes for the future.

Neither one of us were ready to say goodbye to the city just yet, so after dinner we hopped on the tube and went to Tower Bridge.  It’s such a beautiful area, with the Tower of London situated right next to it.  It was a beautiful night so we decided to walk along the river and take in the views one more time.  We ended up walking along the river all the way back to our hotel, which was roughly 2.5 miles.  It was the perfect way to end our amazing vacation.

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We left London early the next morning and while our hearts may have been slightly heavy, we were excited to go home and start preparing for our sweet baby girl.  This trip helped us close the infertile chapter of our lives.  We were on our way home to start the next chapter:  The one where we become parents.

Babymoon in Europe: Part One

As you may remember, my husband and I planned a trip to Europe.  We scheduled the trip a few months after our IVF cycle, with the idea being the same as our Europe trip after the previous cycle.  If our IVF was successful, it would make for an incredible babymoon.  If it wasn’t, well, at least we’d have a vacation to look forward to.  As luck would have it, our cycle was successful, and we were determined to make our babymoon one hell of a celebration.

We left for Europe at the end of October.  Our trip would start as our Europe trips always do; with a few days in London.  This was my 8th trip to London and my husband’s 4th, so we didn’t really have an itinerary planned for this trip.  Our plan was simply to take in the sights and enjoy ourselves.  Chances are we won’t be making it across the pond again any time soon.

We did make a point to visit the Museum of London, which neither of us had been to in our previous visits.  It’s a museum that takes you through the history of London, from the prehistoric ages all the way to the present time.  It’s a great way to experience London’s history and it’s free!  We spent the better part of our day taking in London’s history at the museum.

Our weekend in London was spent with some of our closest friends and favorite UK residents, Charlie & Gareth.  We spent the morning making our way over to One New Change, a shopping center complete with rooftop patio and breathtaking views of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the city itself.  It was there that my baby bump made its social media debut.

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From there, we went to Borough Market.  It’s an outdoor food market with tons of vendors and a variety of different foods.  We managed to destroy some cheese and olives breadsticks, pretzels, pad thai, bratwurst and Turkish delight in the short time we were there.  Honestly, we might have had more.  It’s all a food coma haze to me at this point.  They were out of the one thing we showed up for, however.  There’s a vendor there called the Pieminister that’s supposed to have the most amazing pie and mash, but alas, they were out of all the ones we wanted by the time we got there.  Oh well.  Gives us an excuse to go back, doesn’t it?

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A pregnant woman leads the way into the food market of her dreams

From there, we made a special trip to a bookstore in London called Waterstones.  Their store on Picadilly is the largest bookstore in all of Europe and one of my favorite places to visit when we come to London.  This time, our visit was particularly special, as I was buying my baby girl her very first Paddington Bear book.  I got incredibly emotional walking through the children’s books thinking about how lucky we were to be having this baby and how I couldn’t wait to start reading her some of my favorite stories from my childhood.  Picture it if you will; me, 5 months pregnant, walking around the  children’s book section, clutching a stuffed Paddington bear and crying hysterically.  Lee just looked at me and laughed.  Not in like, a “haha your tears are funny”, but more of a “that’s my pregnant wife, isn’t she adorable” sort of way.  I would use the excuse that pregnancy makes one emotional, but frankly, I’m just an emotional person and Paddington is one of my favorite books.  I probably would have cried about buying it for my child even if I wasn’t pregnant.

After a long day out and about in the city, it was time to head back to the hotel.  The plan was to take a quick nap and head out for dinner with our friends.  In actuality, it ended up being a 3 and half hour nap, followed by snacks purchased from the local grocery store, playing card games and watching music videos in our friend’s room.  It was a wild Saturday night.

Our last day in London was more like a half day, as we would be leaving for Amsterdam on the Eurostar later that evening.  We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel with our friends, and did a bit of shopping before we left for the train station.  We stopped at a cute stationary store and I happened to find a pregnancy journal.  It seemed like the perfect thing to work on during our 4 and a half hour train ride, so I snatched it up.

We also made a quick stop over at the British Museum, another one of the free museums that London has to offer.  We didn’t stay long, as we had a train to catch, but it provided a great spot to look around while we waited for an afternoon rain shower to pass.  The Great Court is, in my humble opinion, one of the coolest places in London.

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Once the rain passed, we walked back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and said goodbye to our friends.  Then it was off to St. Pancras to embark on the next leg of our European Vacation:  Amsterdam!

 

 

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Well, this should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, but surprise!  Lee and I are planning another Europe trip.  5 months from today, we’ll be on our way.

How can we afford this you ask?  Skymiles.  You see, roughly 5 years ago, when Lee and I were planning our wedding, I suggested that we sign up for the Delta Skymiles Card.  While we had some money set aside for our wedding, I figured if we were going to have the party we wanted, it was going to involve some debt.  And if we were going to incur some debt, we might as well get some credit card perks to go with it.  As we planned our wedding, we would put all purchases on the credit card, and then pay it off as soon as possible.  We managed to amass a fair number of miles this way, but not quite enough to pay for a honeymoon.  That would have to wait.

Then 4 rounds of IUI and 2 rounds of IVF happened.  We’ve got miles coming out of our ears at this point.  So many, in fact, that we’re able to pay for both of our flights with miles and still have enough leftover for another trip.  I guess that’s our silver lining?  Thanks inferility!

We’ll start the trip in London as usual, because that’s our favorite place in the entire world.

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Why do we love London so much?   The history is definitely a huge part of it.  Walking through a city with over 1,000 years of well-documented history is pretty awe-inspiring.  Also, the food is pretty amazing.  Don’t let anyone tell you that Brits don’t know food.  That’s false.  London is a melting pot of culture, so there’s something for everyone when it comes to food.  The last time we were there, we had great pub food, but we enjoyed fantastic Italian and Turkish fare as well.  The walkability of the city is another reason to be obsessed.  There’s so much to see in London and most everything is conveniently accessible by foot, tube or train.  Finally, the hotel company I work for has such great hotel deals over in Europe that it allows us to stay in luxury without breaking the bank.  As long as they keep offering such a generous perk, I will make sure to take advantage.

After a fun-filled 4 days in London, we’re heading to Amsterdam!

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Neither Lee and I have ever been to Amsterdam, unless you count an hour-long layover at their airport.  There’s so much to see in the Netherlands!  We’ll be spending 3 days there, and so far have plans to do a half-day trip out to the countryside as well as a trip to the Anne Frank museum.  Other than that?  We’ll do what we do best on vacation.  Walk around and take in the sights.

We’re hoping to take the Eurostar out to Amsterdam, as they now have a direct from London.  On the way back we’re planning on making a stopover in Brussels.  Depending on how long we have in Belgium, Lee would like to make a quick trip to Bruges as well.  One of his favorite movies is the dark comedy “In Bruges” so Lee’s looking forward to channeling his inner Colin Farrell for an afternoon.  (I’d personally prefer that he channel his inner Colin Firth, but that’s another discussion altogether).

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Bruges is known as one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so I’m looking forward to taking in the history!  After a quick trip through Belgium, it’s back to London for a couple more days to wrap up our vacation.

Naturally, we’re hoping for a big fat positive at the end of this cycle, which would make this vacation a pretty epic babymoon.  In the event that we don’t get the outcome we’re hoping for, we’ll need something to look forward to.  While I don’t know that there’s anything that will quell the sadness and disappointment we’ll be experiencing if this round doesn’t work, spending some time in our favorite place will probably help to ease the pain; at least for a little while.

Keeping up the cautiously optimistic attitude in the meantime.  T-minus 4 weeks until we learn the outcome.

 

Christmas in Europe Part Two: London Calling

After our initial travel debacle, the rest of the journey to London was uneventful.  It was a non-stop overnight flight, which meant attempting to sleep on an airplane.  We arrived in London at about noon on Thursday, December 14th.  While it wasn’t exactly warm, there was about a 30 degree difference between Minneapolis and London which felt quite nice.  We hopped on the Heathrow Express  to London and made our way toward our hotel in the Lambeth area of London.

Now, I work for a hotel, which is not without it perks.  That’s part of the reason why it’s so affordable for my husband and I to travel (especially internationally).  When we checked in to the hotel, the guest service rep casually mentioned that he had upgraded our room, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the amazing upgrade we received.

 

They upgraded us to a one-bedroom suite facing the Thames with a beautiful view of Westminster Abbey.  Had it been warmer than 40 degrees while we were there, I would have spent morning, noon and night out on the balcony admiring the scenery.

Lee and I learned long ago, that even though the jet lag can be absolutely miserable when you first get there, it’s best to power through and get on London time so that it doesn’t ruin the start of your trip.  With that idea in mind, we quickly got situated, showered and then went on our way taking in the sights.  We walked along south bank, past the London Eye toward the south bank Christmas market.  One of the things that surprised us was the amount of outdoor seating available in December.  Every restaurant along Gabriel’s Wharf had outdoor dining available, equipped with heaters and blankets.  And people were actually sitting outside!  We’re made of strong stuff in Minnesota, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone willing to eat dinner outside at 40 degrees.

We popped in for dinner at a little pizza place and relaxed for a bit before making our way back toward the hotel.  There’s a little boat located right outside the hotel that’s actually a bar, so we stopped in for a nightcap, before heading in for the night.

We managed to make it all the way to about 8 p.m. before we called it a day.  Not bad considering I got maybe an hour of sleep on the plane.  We hopped in bed with no real plans for the next day.  We’d wait to see where the day took us.

I woke up the next morning determined to accomplish what I had only recently realized was a dream of mine.  I was going to go for a morning run along the Thames.  Of course, (because it’s London), it was raining.  It rained every morning when I would get up to run, which meant I was relegated to the hotel fitness center.  Oh well.  Next time.

Another one of the perks of staying at my hotel properties is the complimentary breakfast each morning.  Each day, we received a full English Breakfast as well as anything we wanted to help ourselves to from the continental buffet.  The continental breakfast was more than plenty on its own!  Smoked meats and cheeses,  a variety of breakfast breads, fresh fruit, smoothies, porridge and of course a plethora of juices, teas and coffees.  After a quick breakfast, we were on our way.

We got a lot of walking in that first day!  From the hotel, we walked to Westminster Abbey, up to Trafalgar Square, then down through St. James Park, Green Park, to Hyde Park for the Winter Wonderland and then over to Harrod’s to do a little Christmas shopping.  I’ve put together this beautiful little map to show you our travels.

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After Harrod’s we stopped for a quick bite before heading back to the hotel.  We had very important business to attend to!  Our friends Charlie & Gareth were meeting us at the hotel, and would be spending the weekend in London with us.  Once we were reunited, we went and had an amazing Turkish meal at a terrible Turkish restaurant.  (Yes, you read that right; amazing food, shitshow of a restaurant).  We called it a relatively early night that night, as we had a big day ahead of us the next day.

Saturday we met for breakfast and then headed out to do some more shopping,  I only had a few things on the agenda for Saturday, but I was really excited about them!  I got tickets to Skygarden, which I was unable to get on our last visit.  Located on the 36th floor of a building nicknamed the Walkie Talkie, Sky Garden is exactly that:  A garden in the sky.  It had started to rain rather heavily at this point, so there wasn’t an option to enjoy the rooftop deck, but I would imagine, the views are even more breathtaking when you can enjoy them outside.

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That evening, we had tickets to a pop-up movie.  Each year, a company called Backyard Cinema hosts a pop-up movie theater in the middle of a Christmas Carnival.  I managed to find out about it through a Buzzfeed article and snagged tickets to see Love Actually as soon as they went on sale.

The video I saw on their website was cool and all, but it really didn’t do the experience justice.  We rolled up to the carnival and made our way to the movie theatre where we queued to get in.  We walked through a wardrobe stuffed with coats a la The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, walked down a magically lit path into a heated tent complete with a full bar and blankets at each seat.  It was such a wonderful experience; one that I definitely hope to do again!

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Sunday was a little more laid back as we had to leave London, but I can unequivocally state that we already can’t wait to go back.  Each time I visit, it gets that much harder to leave.  As much as I love the great state of Minnesota, if a job ever opened up for me over in England, I wouldn’t even hesitate.  That job would be mine.

We had a day and a half to relax with our friends before we were on to our next adventure:  the Christmas markets in Germany.  Neither of us had ever been, and neither one of us was quite prepared for the experience.

Christmas in Europe Part One: The Departure

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I had the best of intentions when it came to writing a blog post or two during our European vacation, but alas, I failed miserably.  The fact is, I was too excited to get each and every day started, didn’t make it back to the hotel until late and oftentimes I wasn’t exactly sober.  All in all, I’d say our Christmas vacation was a success, which is great, because it didn’t necessarily start out that way.

I have a habit of getting to the airport early, in order to avoid any issues or surprises that may pop up.  We started for the airport at about 5 p.m., anticipating that we would hit some nasty pockets during rush hour as we made our way to the airport halfway across town.  Traffic was surprisingly mild, however, and we ended up making it to the airport with about 4 hours to spare before our flight.  We got checked in and made our way to the security checkpoint, expecting to stand around for half an hour, as there never seems to be enough security lanes open when we fly.  Again, we made it up to security and through almost instantly.  What luck, right?  Well, that’s where our luck took a bit of a shit.

We’re on the other side of the security checkpoint gathering our things, when Lee realizes he doesn’t have his ticket or his passport anymore.  I immediately became super agitated, and here’s why:

  1.  I have very little patience
  2. Lee has a habit of forgetting things at an airport.

We’ve lost a phone and wallet(which were recovered), a camera, a computer (which was recovered) and most recently (as in, on this trip), an umbrella.  Granted, I myself am incredibly absent-minded in the mornings when I’m leaving for work, and if it weren’t for Lee going through a checklist with me every morning, I’d probably forget something everyday.  But if I forget my wallet, that just means I don’t eat lunch that day.  It doesn’t mean I’m in jeopardy of not being able to leave the country.  So, I become agitated, because I’m annoyed that this is happening again, but also, because if he can’t find his passport, neither of us are going on this trip.  I would never dream of leaving without him, but I also don’t want to be put in a situation where I have to make that decision.

We tear apart his carry-on, rifle through all of his pockets; it’s nowhere to be found.  We go through the stack of empty bins to make sure it hasn’t been left in one by mistake.  It’s not there.  At this point, we decide to get security involved.  Lee pulls a TSA employee aside and explains that he thinks he may have left his passport on the other side.  Lee can’t go and check himself of course, as he would have to way to get back through security, so he relies on the kindness of a stranger.  The stranger peeks his head over the partition, glances quickly, states that the passport is not there, and walks away.  Awesome.  Thanks, Brah.

Lee tries with another TSA agent who tells him to check the security desk.  It’s not there either.  We try to get another agent or two to give a shit about the fact that our trip is ruined if this doesn’t get sorted, before I finally decide to exit and re-enter the airport so I can scour the area myself.  I run through the terminal, to the exit, down the stairs and then up the escalator to the security area.  I approach an agent on that side of the wall and explain the situation.  She tells me that she hasn’t seen it, but she knows there’s another employee looking for it.  Finally!  Someone cares.

I wait in line for my turn to go through security, because of course, now it’s gotten a bit busier.  As I’m taking off my shoes to place them in the bin, I see Lee out of the corner of my eye, waving wildly.  He gives me a thumbs up, and I immediately relax a little.  I’m still really anxious about the whole ordeal, but at least we know that we can get on the plane.

I make my way through security again, only to be pulled aside this time for a good old-fashioned frisking.  Because, of course.

Lee ended up determining that in a very odd and (I’m assuming) incredibly rare, twist of fate, Lee’s passport and ticket managed to fall out of the bin as it was traveling down the belt, and fell in between the slats of the belt.  Lee was finally able to get an employee to look underneath the conveyor belt, and voila.  That’s where it was.

After a very stressful and anxious half-hour, we made our way to the Delta club lounge, where I made it my mission to drink enough vodka to forget the whole debacle even happened.  I didn’t exactly accomplish my mission, but after 4 vodka sodas I definitely cared a little bit less.

I chose to look at our security fiasco as a mere blip in what would be an otherwise perfect trip.  Everything, from that point on, would be exactly as we had imagined it would be, if not better.

And luckily, I was right.

 

 

Christmas in London

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Surprise!

I’m planning another London trip.

The idea came about when we were in London for Lee’s 40th birthday trip last November.  The Christmas decorations were going up for the season and I was awestruck.  Anyone that knows me knows that I am a little obsessed with Christmas.  From the music, to the decorations to the food and time with friends and family; I am enamored with all of it.  Being in London and walking through department stores like Harrod’s and Selfridges filled me with such childlike excitement that I knew I had to come back and experience Christmas at full tilt.  Thus, the plan for London Christmas Vacation 2K17 was born.

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Pictures from our London trip in November 2016

Our friends Charlie and Gareth, who live just outside of London, travel every year to Cologne, Germany right before Christmas to check out the Christmas markets.  Neither Lee or I have ever been to Germany so naturally, the idea of tagging along on their annual Christmas pilgrimage sounds like a dream come true.  We could travel out to London, meet up with them, travel to Germany, have an amazing time, and be home in time for Christmas with our families.

Given everything else we’re going through, it may seem like we’re overextending, but I feel like we need this.  As I’ve explained to those who know of our travel plans, if our IVF cycle works, this will be the last time we’ll have an opportunity to visit the UK for quite a while.  If our cycle doesn’t work, we’ll need something to look forward to.  I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than spending the holiday season in our favorite country with some of our favorite people.

And think about it:  If we are pregnant, it’ll be our bump’s first transatlantic vacation.  If I’m not, I can drown my sorrows in delicious UK whiskeys and ciders.  It’s a win/not quite a win, but somewhat bearable situation, really.

While we wait to see what’s going to happen over the course of the next 9 days, this will be the thing that keeps my thoughts otherwise engaged.  And if, for some reason, this round of IVF does not work, this will be what allows me to heal, recharge and come back ready to kick some infertility ass.