In June we took our first family holiday, a trip down to South Limburg to meet my folks, who had been travelling around Germany. It was exciting times – Ewoud got to drive his little family to the destination, I got to mess up the map directions and do some impromptu shouting and backseat driving and Lola got to hum along to the Cramps while we negotiated strange motorways.
With only a 20-minute detour needed, we got to our destination, Rozenhof, early afternoon, conveniently after everything had been set up for us (thanks Dad!) He’d also managed to find an empty field, with cows on one side and horses on the other and in front, a gorgeous view overlooking Epen. Lal Lass was so excited to arrive that as soon as her seatbelt was off, she jumped out of the car, ran across the field and threw herself into a hedge.
As we watched this happen, I thought that the hedge would bring her to a halt, by perhaps bouncing her back cartoon-style, but unfortunately it was camouflaging a small ditch, which Lola ended up headfirst in. Fortunately, she is from strong Northern stock, and she was hauled out only slightly annoyed and dishevelled and ready for round 2.
The location, views and general “fresh air” vibe made me feel like we were back in the Lake District (minus the lakes) which was just what I needed. Whilst packing, I had made sure we took something for every kind of weather – and we needed it. One day it was sunburn alert and the next flood warnings. The best purchase I made for the trip were EUR10 wellies from Hema for Lola, which she loved and put on and took off every 20 minutes.
I’ve never been much of a camper, in fact this Smudge cover played by Evan Dando could have been written about me, and the last time I went camping was probably 10 years ago and would have involved more than my fair share of White Lightning. But when you have a double air mattress, satellite TV and, of course English tea bags, burgers and sausages, it’s hardly Into The Wild.
I had two concerns about a camping trip with a toddler – how she would sleep and bathroom facilities. The first was tested that evening, when we placed Lal Lass in the spare bed in the caravan whilst the adults drank wine in the awning. After giving us an hour of false hope, she began the fitful sleep that would continue until morning.
That night she kept herself and the rest of us awake, rolling around, hitting things with flailing arms and legs, sitting up and whispering to me, laughing to herself and generally doing anything besides sleeping. The following night and every night after, she slept with us in the extension and actually it was quite cosy to lie between my snoring hubby and daughter.
The second concern was addressed the next morning when I told my mam I was taking Lal Lass for a shower and she handed me a coin that entitled us to a full 4 minutes of hot water, which, judging from the smile on her face, was very impressive. I have never before succeeded in doing any task with a toddler in less than 20 minutes so 4 was unthinkable at that point, especially with the dreaded hair wash…which was more than necessary after the previous day’s hedge dive.
Fortunately there was a larger cubicle for people with disabilities, or in my case, person with a toddler. So I nabbed it and as I got her undressed, Lal Lass was so busy exploring the fascinating space she didn’t notice it was a shower until we were both under it and I’d squeezed shampoo on her head. And lo and behold – a full shower for two can be achieved in 4 minutes!
Later that morning we decided to drive to Aachen, mainly because we wanted to cross the border into Germany, and it was the closest city. We didn’t know a lot about the place before we went and we left knowing little more, other than it appeared to be 70s-style modern with a couple of interestingly old cathedrals. Shopping wasn’t too bad and we stocked up on wine to bring back to the van.
That night brought in a pretty impressive storm, perfectly timed for when Ewoud had taken Lal Lass and I out for a drive around the country lanes. The one-hour drive was a test on Ewoud’s driving skills, my controlling nature and our second-hand Merc’s brakes.
We made it back in one piece and all the excitement knocked Lal Lass out for the night. In fact, despite thunder and lightning, everyone slept pretty well that night, except my dad who was awake worriedly calculating how many inches of rainfall it would take for us to be swept down the field into the Hedge of Doom.
As a busy googler and longterm resident of both Northern and Western Europe, I had already made some plans in case of crappy weather and the following day we set off for Gulpen, home to Gulpener brewery and Mosaqua.
It was the first time Lal Lass had been to a swimming pool, which at 19 months of age seems a bit ridiculous. But there just hadn’t been an opportunity to visit our local pool, so this was pretty exciting. Mosaqua has water slides, lane swimming, wave pools, sun beds and an outdoor water park. But our mission was to conquer the Jungle Pool….warm water up to your calves, a frog slide…toddler’s paradise. And she did love it, for about 2 hours, which was pretty good going for a first-timer.
After that, we decided to go for a drive to Valkenburg and surrounds, but as Lal Lass passed out in the back of the car after her swimming extravaganza, we didn’t get out to explore and instead drove back to Gulpen for pancakes at De Pannekoeken Molen.
This is definitely one for families. A great pancake place where they make their own pancake flour and the eggs are provided by the chickens in the garden and there’s a full playground outdoors. Inside, there’s plenty of space, high chairs, toys and placemats to colour in. The pancakes were a little more expensive than usual, but the surroundings and child-friendliness of it all made it worthwhile.
The campsite itself was fine and Lal Lass was kept amused by her grandparents, the horses in the field next door and a little outdoor playground, but the restaurant/bar closed around 8pm and so that night we went for another drive. This time to Drielandenpunt (3 Lands Point), where Holland meets Germany meets Belgium…
The views from there are stunning and the local gemeente have definitely put some time and effort into the tourist spot – there are several restaurants “with panoramic views”, playgrounds and shops. We basically did a drive-by with a pause for running around the rock…job done.
All that fresh air worked wonders for Lola’s sleep patterns, as she slept through every night after that first one until 7am. Bliss. And Thursday was our day off as nanna and grandad wanted some quality time with her so we could go and explore. Our first child-free destination was to Liège in Belgium, a 45-minute drive through more winding roads and gorgeous countryside.
As Liège is so far north, we were surprised to find the local language was French. The city itself wasn’t much to write home about, but again, good shops and it was nice to walk around the centre, stopping for coffee without having to think about children’s facilities and naps.
After a couple of hours of exploring the backstreets of Liege we decided to squeeze in a visit to Maastricht, which was 30 minutes’ drive away and just what I needed. And how cute?
The streets were lined with nets filled with orange balloons, which hadn’t been released due to Holland’s disappointing defeat in the previous night’s football match. The atmosphere of the city wasn’t spoiled by this though and we had a great time wandering around the centre.
Maastricht is also home to my new favourite bookstore location. The bookstore itself is part of the Selexyz chain and it’s home, a former Dominican church. The bookshop or library was always my favourite place as a kid, and as an adult, I’m happy that this church offers more fiction than just the bible.
After gawping at high ceilings, stained glass windows and the occasional book, it was time to head back to have dinner with the rest of the family back at Rozenhof and this time the sun stayed out all day for us.
If you’d have told me 10 years ago, or even 5, that I’d be holidaying with my parents, husband and baby daughter in a caravan somewhere in Holland, I’d have thought you’d taken some pretty illegal substances. But here I am, having just returned from a pretty successful trip, despite the occasional gale-force wind, and a few weeks away from our second such holiday. South Walney…watch out!