And then we were three. In ways we could not have possibly foreseen, our lives were turned upside down. For weeks we lived like zombies, moving from one feeding session to another. In all honesty, it was brutal. With the baby not latching on and momma hooked onto a breast pump eight times a day, leaving the house was for bare necessities only. We survived on instincts and adrenaline and it took what seemed like forever to find our second breath. And then suddenly, we still don’t know how we coped, our son was over six weeks old and things started to clear up. Already deeply sleep deprived (still can’t remember what undisrupted sleep feels like), you seem to get the hang of it. Cautiously, plans are made again, knowing that the fragile balance bubble can burst in the blink of an eye.
But in a flair of regained energy and a lot of willpower, we packed all baby stuff in a large duffle bag and hit the road. Finally we were complete, set and ready for adventures together. Happy exploring sweet baby Fill!
Since our grandparents live in Schönberg, which is in the East of Belgium, we love to visit several weekends a year. This would be baby’s first trip and so going familiar places would do us all good. The region is called ‘Oostkantons’ and over the centuries it has been under highly variable governance. After the first World War it was given to Belgium as a compensation for war damage suffered. During the Second WW the Oostkantons were yet again annexed by the German Reich, but afterwards returned to our country.
Since the German border is literally three kilometers away from their home, we decided to first go for an overnight stay in the German Mosel area. We found a nice family-friendly hotel located in Müden, hotel Ostermann, that provided a baby bed and where we felt comfortable installing the balance sitter next to us in the restaurant. Moreover, the hotel was also near the famous and stunning Eltz Castle (‘Burg Eltz’), which we were eager to visit. Until this very day a count and countess live in the castle and are proud to preserve their ancestral home. It opens its gates starting late spring for everyone to enjoy its history, architecture and furnishings.
Unfortunately during our little winter outing high tea in a Middle Ages setting was not going to happen. But the surrounding Eltz forest did please our needs with fine hiking trails in and over the valley as well as a stunning panorama. With baby safely in his infant carrier and huddled close to daddy’s warm body, we hit the track. Most of the walk he was in a cozy sleep, softly bounced by dad’s walking rhythm. The track was a moderate climb upwards, offering a good view on a stream below meandering through the hills. But just when we arrived at the castle, on top of a big rock, a quiet moaning started to get more agitated. As new parents, we found it tricky to interpret what the whimpering was about.
Although low temperatures were not in our favor, we had to get the little one undressed and perform high-speed acrobats changing him on a bench nearby.
Of course this resulted in screaming at the top of his little lungs, but as soon as he was in a fresh pair of diapers, calm in the valley returned. For a first two hour hike, little man coped well. The trip to the castle was in many ways what we love about hiking: you have to undertake some physical exercise to reach it (although a minibus can also bring you up there via the road on the other side of the valley), but you are then rewarded by a one of a kind view and surrounding that makes you want to explore more!
In the evening, we set course for Grandma’s cabin in the Ardennes. Known for its diverse wildlife, stunning woods, charming villages and Deutsches beer, it’s one of our favorite regions in Belgium. And what more could baby possibly want? None of the above and above all milk. Our days were (and to a certain extend still are) organized around feeding times and when you’re out and about this becomes extra challenging.
When to leave? After baby had his milk. When to come back? Before baby is hungry. What to take along? Milk, just in case. Priorities have shifted considerably.
So the following day, when we set off for a walk in the woods of Schlierbach, a hamlet of Sankt Vith, we were well prepared. Baby enjoyed being outside and in fresh air and we were happy to explore a new part of the area. Even when you’re in the homeland, with its dense population and seemingly little ‘green’, you can be pleasantly surprised by open views and fairly unspoiled grounds. We parked our car by the side of the road and hopped straight onto a trail in the woods. We were thrilled that snow had fallen overnight; the forest becomes even more magical.
A map guided us towards the big Antonius Tree, a 350 year old oak in “St Vither Wald” (Sankt Vith forest), once a place of pilgrimage. Even on this chilly afternoon in early January we encountered a few likeminded souls out and about, running it off, walking the dog or riding a horse. It felt good to be doing our thing. Our son, less than three months old, was doing great. This being said, we knew that we were asking quite a bit from him and so we cut the walk short. It turned out to be a good call because at the end, on baby’s whimpering cue, momma ran ahead towards the car, kicked off snow from her boots, started the heating inside, installed herself in the backseat and prepared the milk bottle baby engorged as soon as he was in her arms. Tricky business, but great timing indeed.