Transfagarasan, the name of the road that links the South part of Romania with Transilvania was made famous in Western Europe by the British TV show Top Gear where it received the title of “best road in the world”. But even before gaining this notoriety, it was considered one of the most spectacular roadrips in Eastern Europe for its hight and beautiful views. Tourists from all over the world are now going to Romania to drive this 90 km stretch of road that goes up to an altitude of 2000 km and crossing the Southern section of the Carpathians.
I have been to Portugal a few times already. First, about 8 years ago, I travelled with my best friend to Porto and Lisbon. I have then spend a couple of week- ends in Lisbon with friends. And of course, the Azores in 2011. But in the August of 2017, looking for possible destinations for a sort jaunt from Brussels, I stumbled on the coastal town of Sesimbra. It is then that Mr happened to mention he was never to Portugal. The decision was made. He received a trip to Portugal as his birthday present.
As Lisbon was my husband’s treat, I kept it for the end. Upon arrival we rented a car and drove down to Sesimbra, about one hour south of Lisbon. Potuguese colleagues recommended it for the nice, wide beach, fresh seafood and being popular with locals mostly. As we were travelling mid-August, there were bound to be people on holidays, so any tips to less travelled places were well appreciated.
With our toddler well accustomed to the train travel, on our 7th day in Japan, we headed to Kyoto. From Takayama we first had to go back to Nagoya for 2h30 min on the Hida express train. We then changed in a hurry (consider that the Shinkansen is usually in another part of the train station compared to the local (slower) trains) and took the Shinkansen for about one hour to Kyoto. We timed the departure at lunch break so that the LO would sleep on the train. This time it worked.
Japan was long on my list but somehow we never got the chance till this May to jump on a flight to Tokyo. As we traveled with our 18-month year old baby, this trip required a bit more preparation in terms of advance booking of accommodation and itinerary setting. I do plenty of research before almost every trip (to make sure I do get my pick of the nice hotels at affordable prices and book ahead any sights to avoid long queues) but for the trips with the baby, it moves to the next level – control freak level that is!
This trip will be split into at least two different posts as the information is very fresh in my mind and I will probably dwell on the details more than usual. Also, if you plan to take this trip with a toddler (like us), I guess the more info the better. Please note however, we did not choose the itinerary or accommodation to suit the baby but rather tried to ease the baby into our travel pace. Therefore, no all inclusive, baby clubs or private transfer for us.
We travelled to Cyprus last year, in September. For residents of the European North, September is the month when we start to become itchy for another break in the Sun. This is especially when summer means two weeks with temperatures above 20 in June and two weeks again in August, if we are lucky. September is also when prices start to get back to more reasonable levels as most of schools holidays draw to a close.
I travelled well into my pregnancy, with the last trip to Puglia when I was about 7 months along. We also had a gorgeous ‘babymoon’ to Sri Lanka and Maldive that I shared on the blog. Still, after giving birth, I was again eager to discover someplace new and I started looking for a destination that we could share as a family in early April 2016. Friends were travelling at the same time to Tenerife so we decided to tag along.
It was not a package holiday but we did take it easy as regards accomodation and went for half board. We did not know how the baby will adapt (4 months at the time of travel) and preferred to make sure there will be some easily reachable food in case he decides to act up just as dinner draws close. We also rented a car (with a car seat) to give us some flexibility to explore the island.
From about the time I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to use part of my parental leave to travel. The usual yearly holidays are a good place to start but, as I was looking at a few extra months of leave once the LO would join us, I wanted to use them to travel as well. This is how the idea of a long road trip through Australia was born.
We bought the plane tickets in Summer for a trip that took place shortly after Christmas 2016 and lasted a bit more than 6 weeks. LO was one year old at the time of travel so the first rounds of vaccinations were done and he already showed some willingness to accommodate plane constraints (we took him for 8 or so European flights since birth). This being said, we were still prepared to the teeth with squeaky toys, blankets, pacifiers and bottles. I might have even brought 8 or so jars of food and powder milk which was totally unnecessary as, you probably guessed it, everything is easily available pretty much everywhere except maybe the outback.
Planning: After buying the flights to Sydney, I started with drawing up the itinerary. The initial idea was to travel by car, maybe even a caravan, and go down the East Coast. A classic! As we were reading more and more about the country, several other points of interest popped up so we had to give up part of the road trip in order to cover more ground. Also, we were not too keen on driving in the outback with a one year old baby. After a few iterations we ended up with the following general itinerary :
- A week or so in Sydney upon arrival: to recover from Jet lag and see the Opera House fireworks at New Year. Fly to Melbourne
- About 8 days in Melbourne and up and down the Great Ocean Road. Return to Melbourne and fly to Uluru.
- Three nights in Uluru (also referred to as Ayeres Rock)
- About 26 days to drive down from Cairns to Sydney (including plenty of time in Cairns to dive the Great Barrier Reef)
As there is plenty to say and even much more to do, I will do separate posts for each of these legs.
What to bring from home (and what not): If it would have been just me and the Mr travelling, I would have probably said nothing or almost nothing.
We had our sun hats, sun glasses and diving masks, PADI certification and diving logs, international driving licence, emergency kit with some medicine in case of traveller’s tummy or sunburns and some insect repellent. Do not bring Sunscreen. The rays are much stronger, especially if going in the Summer as we did, and local Sunscreen is better suited. Also took the camera, the underwater camera (GoPro) and water shoes.Good walking shoes or sandals are also a must as you will be spending lots of time outdoors.
For the baby, the list got somewhat longer and included also his health book and proof of vaccinations, powder milk, baby porridge, several jars of pureed food, a couple of bottles an teats, several soothers, some liquid soap to wash said bottles, a brush, skin cream and diaper cream, bath soap, baby insect repellent, a blanket, a small towel, a bed sheet, a few muslin cloths, a bunch of his favourite toys and clothes for pretty much any weather conditions you can imagine. We each had a backpack with our own stuff and an extra luggage for the baby. And the stroller.
Looking back, except for the minimum documentation, emergency medical kit for all and a few favourite toys, bottle and pacifiers, I could have left everything home. Baby food was easy to find in all supermarkets and the LO had no issues with changing the milk to a local Bio brand. Almost all places we stayed at had access to a washing machine and provided detergent and liquid detergent for dishes. Also, we had requested baby beds in advance and there was no problem in getting them as well as the sheets and towels. This experience served us well to understand how little a baby actually needs to travel, especially if your destination is in a country with similar standards of living as Western Europe.
Rent a car: we went via Autoeurope and found good deals both for the car that we rented in Melbourne and the one in Cairns. We were lucky with the car seats, as both cars had quite new, good quality seats. You can travel with your own one if you want as well. We decided to give up the baby car seat and only travel with the stroller to reduce the number of luggage and also because we had periods (in Sydney and Uluru) where we had no car available. As for the transfer from the airport to the hotel in Sydney, we booked in advance a service that offers car seats (Bubs Taxi). It was not cheap but it gave us peace of mind. On the way back to the airport, we asked the reception to book as a taxi transfer with child seat and everything worked out fine (and cheaper that the first transfer).
Accommodation: As we were spending 6 weeks in Australia, we opted for flexibility and only booked Sydney, Melbourne and Uluru before leaving Europe. Sydney because that was the first stop and our period coincided with the New Year so we expected high prices and some crowds. Melbourne for similar reasons but also because we were in the Australian summer break. Uluru is a bit of a special scenario as there is a self contained resort and you are constrained by a limited number of accommodation places in each price bracket. If you are planning a longer journey, my advice would be to book the first two stops (for recovering for the flight, get accustomed to the place and enjoying some well deserved exploration time) and any other accommodation that might fill up fast or in a special location.
As we were expecting some jet lag induced early mornings for both us and the baby, we decided for a small apartment in Sydney. We booked the Meriton Serviced Appartments on Campbell Street. The small flat had a washing maschine, dish washer and fully equipped kitchen. More importantly, the sleeping room was separate, meaning that when the baby would wake up early, one parent could go out to the living room and entertain him or watch some TV while the other could still sleep a bit and take the early shift the next day. It worked out really great to give us some flexibility in the difficult first days of adjustment.
Internal flights: We ended up with 3 internal flights. 1) Sydney to Melbourne (aprox 1h), 2) Melbourne to Uluru (via Sydney aprox 5h30) and 3) Uluru to Cairns (about 2h30). We booked them all in advance as we were afraid the prices might go up over the holidays and once we are in Australia. Also, for the itinerary we chose, there were limited alternatives to/from Uluru. There are a few low cost carriers that go between Sydney and Melbourne but be careful about luggage fees as this might add up. We decided for two Virgin Australia and one Quantas flights for around 1200 Euro for all three flights Euros for the three of us.
International flight preparation: The golden rule of baby travel: book a bassinet as soon as you can! I called the airline the next day the tickets were booked (about 6 months in advance) to request seats with a bassinet. We went with Qatar Airways and bassinets were available but for the first part of the journey, to Doha, me and my husband could not sit next to eachother. That was not a big issue as most of the journey was during the day and the LO played, looked around and was generally easy to handle. We changed planes in Qatar and prepared LO for the night travel that followed by putting him in a pyjama and giving him the bottle as the flight to Sydney was taking off. Once he was sufficiently tired, I put him in the carrier and walked a bit in the plane. That was enough to put him to sleep so I then took him out of the carrier and laid him down him in the bassinet. He managed to get about 7h sleep in the bassinet which is not that bad bad considering the new surroundings and the noise. The most disruptive parts (for me rather than for him 🙂 were when during turbulence, I had to remove him from the bassinet and take him in my arms again. As this is a security measure to avoid injury, there is no leeway from the crew so even if I was just managed to get him to sleep in the bassinet. I had to pick him up a couple of times during the night and secure him with the seatbelt.
We arrived in Sydney in the evening of the second day of our adventure , with our previously booked transfer (fitted with baby car seat) waiting for us at the airport. We went directly to our hotel-apartment (30 -40 min from the airport) and, after a very short dinner in a nearby arcade, all fell to sleep tired and jet lagged.
Of course, LO woke up at 3 AM refresed and wanted to eat and play. We had this for about 2-3 nights and the best cure for the jetlag was to actually try to keep him awake as long as possible during the day. We also immediatelly changed his meals to fit the new daytime hours ( he had an early breakfast when he would wake up and a small snack to keep him going till lunchtime). By the end of day 3, he was fully adjusted to the new timezone. It was actually faster for him than for us. We continued to wake up very early for a week or so.
Essential buy on arrival: a SIM card with a data plan. Already on our first day in Sydney we had identified a big shopping mall close to the aparthotel and compared several offers. If you will be in Australia for more than a few days, it makes a lot of sense to switch to local number. You can enjoy internet everywhere and pay a fraction of the price compared to Roaming. We went for Vodafone. It costs around 20 AUD and the initial credit is valid for 30 days. Offers may differ.
Stay tuned for great activities to do with children in Sydney in my next Australia post.
Thailand is by now a well-established destination for winter sun seekers. Not close enough for a short break but rather well connected to Europe in terms of flights so you do not need to take several connections and loose time in airports, which maximises your time on the ground.
I was not particularly attracted to the idea of Thailand. To me, it conjures images of tourist hoards and temples queues. I could not imagine that there are still places where you could fell some connection to the country, its natural beauty and traditions and get to know the people. But then the opportunity of a reasonably priced direct flight from Paris CDG presented itself. My partner (Mr. CTT) had limited vacation days left as we were in end Oct – November 2016, close to year end. So I decided to ask some friends to join me and do a first post-pregnancy holiday sans-family. After this trip, I decided to do one ladies every year! Surely, Mr. CTT benefits of the same prerogative (except for taking ladies along…:).
If you are still in search for some sun bathing opportunities and warm weather in September head to the South of Italy, in Apulia region! You will love the food, relax in the true ‘Dolce vita’ style on the Adriatic coast and most importantly, pay half the price of a holiday in August.
Against my own best advice as regards travelling in August, the weather in Belgium just managed to chase us out of the country once more. This time direction France, Nord-pas-de-Calais region. Now, this is not exactly the European South so we did not expect 30 + degrees and warm seas but we did want some sun and a change from the grey Brussels scenery.