- Part 1 – Introduction, and the stay-cation
- Part 2 – Belgium
- Part 3 – Paris
- Part 4 – Coming Home & Summary
By Basil K.
The flight from IAH to IAD was uneventful, except that my video monitor did not work. Thankfully Sophia’s did, so she watched a movie during most of the flight. Keeping her occupied and not bored was a primary objective for the flights. As far as my inoperative video monitor – I did what I always do when something like this happens – I took a photo of the non-operating screen and emailed it to the 1K dedicated email address at United. Within days, I had 10,000 United miles in my account. I’ll do that trade all day.
The next challenge for the outbound was that we had a 6 hour layover at IAD. This was the part of the trip that I dreaded the most. However, it worked out really well as I had planned a couple of activities for the layover. First, the United lounge at IAD is very large and you can see the planes from the windows; a big plus. Additionally, since it was Memorial Day, the lounge was nearly empty. We had about 500 square feet to ourselves, and with the fast and free Wi-Fi, Sophia watched some nature programs on my laptop via Netflix. After that, we decided to explore the terminal a bit and get her a burger at Wendy’s. Note – your kids may not want to have a lunch that consists of United Club-issue crackers, Milano cookies, cheese, and shortbread, so be prepared to go to the airport food court.
After Wendy’s came the best part of the layover. I had a number of free drink coupons for United and decided that it was time for Sophia to learn about the sacrifices our armed forces make for us. She watched me hand out a few coupons to soldiers while thanking them for their service, and after a while she got over her initial shyness to do it herself. It was priceless to see a six year old approach a 6 foot 5 hulking soldier while extending a coupon and shyly saying “Thank you for your service.” The soldiers were all floored. I noticed that perhaps given that it was Memorial Day, dozens of people at the airport were stopping soldiers and thanking them; that was nice to see.
The flight from IAD to Brussels was terrific. United’s first class product is decent (not Emirates or Singapore-caliber, but good enough) and more importantly the flight attendants were great with Sophia. In fact, while I was sleeping in the middle of the flight, Sophia was crying because she wanted her stuffed orca from her backpack. Without waking me, the flight attendant got it for her from the overhead bin. I only learned of it later from Sophia. Additionally, as we were approaching Brussels, the same FA suggested that we do a day trip to Bruges, which I had not considered. It was an excellent suggestion and led to us having a great day in Belgium.
Brussels Airport is not one of my favorites. There is no dedicated immigration line for premium passengers and the staff seem quite slow processing people. United also does not have any kind of “arrivals lounge” for you to shower and change, which always befuddles me given how easy it would be for them to strike a deal with the airport hotel. Additionally, the cab line at the airport was extremely long and it was a expensive ride into town. However, one thing I learned is that if you’ve got two large suitcases that you have to handle solo and a child that you need to keep up with, you might want to splurge on a cab.
The Aloft was in a part of Brussels near all the European Union offices, so not very touristy, but convenient to the Metro and in a safe area. The staff were outstanding. They knew all the ins and outs of SPG Platinum amenities, and explained that the following morning, each of us would have our choice of 5 separate breakfast items, including Belgian waffles! They also gave us complimentary drink coupons and were terrific during our brief stay. I recommend the hotel highly.
If Sophia was writing this, she would tell you that one of the highlights of her trip was the foosball table in the lobby of the hotel. This taught me another wise lesson of travelling with kids. Not every activity needs to be exotic or expensive for your kids to love it, especially when their goal is simply to spend time with you. Anyone who has given a child an expensive toy, only to see them play with the box instead, knows what I am talking about. (In Paris, I got the same reaction from Sophia by letting her chase squirrels in Les Tuileries).
It was a short metro ride to the train station for the train to Bruges. It was about an hour ride out there, and from the Bruges station we were able to walk to the center of town and visit all the sites. We did both the boat tour (worth it) and the horse-drawn carriage ride (not worth it). Sophia is an equestrienne so I knew I was on the hook for the carriage ride, but so it goes.
After we returned to Brussels we briefly went to the Grand Place to snap some pictures in the early evening. Brussels seems like a place you can see most everything in two days – three if you are going to Bruges. The best part of this was that it was a good warm up for Paris as we recovered from the jet lag. It also afforded me the opportunity to take Sophia on a train ride from Brussels to Paris. We opted to splurge for first class as the incremental cost was not much since Sophia’s ticket was so cheap, and because it included lunch and Sophia wanted to eat a meal on a train. Mission accomplished.