All mothers know it’s a big period of adjustment just after having a baby. Travelling with one adds another set of lessons to add to the learning curve.
I have always loved travelling so when Maya was born I didn’t intend to stop. It was lucky that I like to travel because even if I did not want to my work demanded that I globe trot. As a single parent I needed to recruit help and a wonderful second cousin, Maysa came from Brazil in my first months of motherhood. Working for an American company my boss expected me back in the saddle immediately and that included going to conferences right away. I explained to him that I couldn’t leave my baby when she was so young so he agreed to pay for Maya and Maysa to come with me for work travel.
As the European Correspondent for CTFN (Connecticut Financial News) this meant I needed to jet off to Brussels two months after Maya was born.
Early morning travel was required so for the first time ever I booked Eurostar premium which was a worthwhile investment. I had more privacy for breast feeding, and we got our breakfast on the way to Brussels, plus super comfy seats.
As soon as we got off the train however we were all cold. There’s a drop of a few degrees between London and Brussels but luckily there are many shops in the train station where the Eurostar arrives so I was able to get Maya an extortionately expensive wool hat and myself an extra sweater.
After that we took an Uber with a grumpy driver to our apartment. Most Uber drivers in Brussels are unfriendly and grumpy for some reason.
After staying in various places on my monthly visits to Brussels in the past I had discovered the Leopold Hotel on Rue de Luxembourg. From then on I always stayed there when I could because it was a very comfortable hotel, quiet at night, with super bed sheets and with a great breakfast. It is next to the European commission and within walking distance of all the places I needed to visit. This time however I had to opt for a more spacious 2 bedroom in an Airbnb apartment. Having had a number of bad experiences I am not a fan of staying in Airbnbs as a whole but I was pleasantly surprised by the size, cost and comfort of the apartment I rented in Brussels. Although the apartment was not as central, it’s a relatively small city so it wasn’t that inconvenient being a little bit out of the centre.
Having Maysa to take care of Maya while I was working was completely amazing and I called her Mayas second mom. Maya was only 2 months old so still small enough in those days to be carried in a sling, and not mind too much if Mummy wasn’t around. I threw a fifty euro note at Maysa when rushing out the door early in the morning and asked her to entertain herself until I would see her later, not knowing when exactly that would be.
These days of work travel were not so different as to before I had Maya. I could still stay late at the networking events and meet people because Maysa was so helpful and didn’t mind being on baby duty 24 hours a day. I was doing a mix of breast feeding and the bottle but Maysa was very organised that Maya never did without. Maysa managed pack the bottle steriliser and all the bottles, and use boiling water and the microwave each time to keep them sterilised and this was always a labour that I left her with.
We really enjoyed our time together as it was her first time in Europe and she was excited to see it. People say the first months of a babies life are the hardest but I disagree. For me a new born baby is much easier to manage than a toddler. They sleep often and go where you want to take them. A toddler is much more difficult in every way, as they have their own ideas of what they want to do and are less likely to abide by your time table.
As I was a first time mom I was just feeling super lucky to still be able to be work while also being a newbie mom. The Brussels conference was a success because I got stories and we all had a comfortable time.
After the conference I promised Maysa an afternoon of sight seeing. I had actually never seen the main tourist sites of Brussels myself, having always gone for work rather than pleasure.
We had both already seen Leopold Park and Luxembourg Place – where the European Parliament resides. I had had to go to the Commission for a meeting so had taken Maysa with me one morning so she could walk around with Maya and see it while I had an interview. We marvelled at the street performers out side on the pavements surrounding the European Commission.
Maysa had also spent time in the Royal Fine Arts Museum of Belgium, specialising in masterpieces of the 15th to 18th century, because it was a good way to keep warm in the unpredictable September weather. She also went a bit out of town to the Hergé Museum using the Museum One PASS for both museums as it allows you to visit more than 200 Belgian museums as many times as you wish in one year.
The Hergé Museum is a museum in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, about half an hour on the train from Central station and it is dedicated to the life and work of the Belgian cartoonist Hergé, (the pen name of Georgés Remi) creator of the series of comic albums, The Adventures of Tintin. I have every intention of visiting that museum next time I am in Brussels.
On our last day I had secured a late check out with the Airbnb so that I could take Maysa and Maya to the Grand Place for lunch. The Grand Place (the central station) is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a truly magnificent square with amazing buildings that began in the 15th Century. An ornate town hall along with other buildings such as the huge Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula which dates back to the 13th century is in the centre. We looked in awe around us and then, getting hungry we had a lot of selection of tourist type places to have lunch but settled on a Belgium waffle shop. It was fast, and let’s face it, also delicious. When in Belgium and all that ….
After the Grand Place we walked to the La Boutique Tintin, a shop specialising in Tintin magazines and all manner of Tintin gimmicks. I loved being brought back to my childhood as Tintin was something I had grown up with.
After buying a Tintin comic book for the future teenage Maya, and maybe really for me, we went in search of the “lucky boy” of Brussels statue which is near the Grand Place on Rue de l ‘Etuve 31. The statue, called the Manneken Pis is a small bronze statue of a boy and is only 61 centimeters tall.
Legend says that the little boy saved Brussels from fire and by peeing on the fuse of an explosive; another story depicts the boy as the victim of a witch’s spell, frozen in time as punishment for peeing on her door.
The Manneken Pis, means “Little Man Wee” in Flemish and is the symbol of the City of Brussels. I found the small boy peeing into the fountain basin a little bit underwhelming as a tourist attraction but apparently he attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.
By now we only had a couple of hours before our Eurostar train was leaving town that night so had to pick up all our luggage and get going. Luckily we managed to the book the one Uber driver in Brussels who was not grumpy and he took us to see the Brussels Royal Palace from
outside and let us walk a little bit in the gardens there before getting to the Eurostar.
Once at the station we found a bar to indulge in Brussels local delicacies of pomme frites and strawberry beer before the train departed. I took a picture of the ridiculous amount of luggage we had for a small five day trip ~ a stark part of the new reality of travelling with a baby! Three suitcases rather than one small one!
Being my first trip abroad with Maya I had even insisted on bringing baby mattress and toys in addition to her large bottle steriliser kit. Without Maysa however that simply wouldn’t have been possible to achieve.
Follow me on my next trip to Paris.