Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Netherlands - WOW!

We spent 10 days in the Netherlands and have totally fallen in love with it! Kay wants to live there when she grows up. The people, the flowers, the cheese, the chocolate, the biking, the name it, its a very cool place we had a WONDERFUL time.

We landed in Amsterdam and were met by Annemieks parents, Maria and Andre. They were EXTREMELY gracious hosts; showing us how to buy train tickets, reserved us and helped us pick up our bikes and basically insuring we got to the place we were staying safe and sound. This is a god send after 10+ hours of air travel with 3 kids!

We walked to a very yummy restaurant for dinner. Kay proceeded to fall asleep in her food and Billy was begging to go to bed. Needless to say, we were all exhausted but felt like we needed to stay up until at least the sunset. Well....That's not until 10:15pm. YIKES!

We made plans to meet Andre at the train station the next morning, he gave us a biking tour of the city, including important landmarks like the grocery store, the bus station, his apartment (where Annemiek and Wendy would be staying, his summer house, and Erick's home (where the reception would be). It was a great way to get a lay of the land. We biked all over, even taking a bike ferry from one side of the canal to the other. They treated us to a nice relaxing lunch of bread, cheese, fresh tomatoes, chocolate spread, apples, etc. Yum!

Bike Ferry

Andre and Maria at their summer home

We headed back to our place and noticed a WaterSport about 2 blocks from us. What is that?!

the kids were intrigued and so were we. It is a series of canals for swimming that have a zip line, rope bridge and rafts that you can "pole" around. The kids were hooked. We spent most of the evening playing in the water and getting our "thrills" on the zip line.

Kay and Jimmy doing Tarzan and Jane on the zip line

A crowd of kids patiently (not) waiting for their turn on the zip line

Jimmy having a gas on the zip line

It was nice to spend the 1st day close to "home". Home was a dormitory type townhouse that could be opened or closed with the adjacent unit. It was concert construction with tile floor, a propane stove, dorm fridge and NO decorations at all. It really reminded us of our place in India; basic but really all we needed. We even had a thatched roof! (which sounded cool in the rain). It is situated on a camp ground that had a HUGE green open space, trampoline, climbing pole and tons of kids and families. There were hiking cabins, RV's and tents. Like in the US, the campers were friendly and we soon had friends. Natalie and her son Louis are French and it was Natalie's 10th visit to Leiden and this camp ground. Louis (her son) was 7 and didn't speak a lick of English, didn't matter though, the kids were fast friends and played together 5 nights in a row. We had great conversation with Natalie on politics, education, family, etc.

Our place

Thursday we decided to get adventurous and took the train into Amsterdam. Leiden is about 30 miles south east of Amsterdam, and once you were at the train station, only about a 25 minute train ride. VERY easy and fun. Our main goal was the Amsterdam zoo and the Van Gogh museum. We were NOT disappointed.

The zoo is in the heart of the city and is how I imagine New York's zoo, the whole city has grown around it and its this beautiful old zoo. And....the best? They had 5 new babies born this spring! That seems amazing to me, you don't hear of that many new babies in 1 year. They had a baby elephant, gorilla, seal, giraffe and lion.

The baby elephant

We headed to the Van Gogh museum, I was a bit concerned about the kids interest, but they really got into it. The museum is cool in that it's set up by year, so as you walk through, you can really see how he grew and developed as an artist. What's even more amazing is that he didn't decide to become an artist until he was 29 and died at 37 (I think I have my ages right). When he died, he had left over 900 paintings and 1000+ sketches. That's just crazy! (pun intended).

We then started wandering around Amsterdam, its a really cool city. The kids had their 1st taste of gelato and they are hooked!

We got home late, but not too late for a glass of wine with Natalie and a jump on the tramp with Louis:)

Jimmy in front of the I Amsterdam sign:)

Interesting signs we saw during our walk

Friday we decided to try the bus system, bought ourselves a "busser" (family bus pass that lets you ride all day) and headed to Katwijk. Katwijk is a small sea side town. It sits on the North Sea and while the day wasn't very nice, Jimmy went straight into the water. (it was about 65 degrees and the rest of us had sweatshirts on). We meant to go to the Space Expo, but it closed at 5pm and we missed that small type (too much time on the beach)

Jimmy in his element

The beach board with all the conditions

Billy trying to stay warm but enthralled with the sand and shells

Kay cartwheeled through the Netherlands

Our 2nd taste of gelato:)

Since we missed the Space Expo timing, we headed back to Leiden and decided to catch the Windmill museum (De Valk). Billy walked in, took a look around and promptly declared "oh, I know how this works! Look Jimmy, the blades turn, which turns this pole, which turns this mill and grinds the wheat. I get this!" Our little engineer:) As an aside, we counted windmills during our trip. Total count? 37.

De Valk

View of Leiden from the top of De Valk

Billy in his element

A photo of us with Natalie and Louis
Too bad we didn't have any fun with them!

The kids on the "tramp". It was a nightly activity and allowed us to meet Louis, Alex, Reinke, Aston and JJ. Billy and Kay learned to do front flips and they made up a game called "hot dog" and "mama". Can't say I really understand the rules, but they all did. Tom and I met Natalie, Linda and Marianne. It really is nice to compare travel notes over a glass of wine with other adults. Especially like minded adults with kids!

Saturday we decided to stay in town to see the farmers market and take a walking tour of Leiden. Leiden is the birthplace of Rembrandt, the oldest university in the Netherlands (alma mater Rene Descartes) and the port the pilgrims left from for the new world. There are tons of canals, walk ways, bike paths and shops. There are also over 40 poems written on the sides of buildings in 40 languages. The town is over 500 years old and has a rich history. VERY cool.

We met Wendy for lunch and saw the Burcht (old fort), Pieterkerk church (church of the pilgrims) and tried fresh herring with onions (yum!). Wendy needed to leave for wedding prep "stuff" so we decided to ride our bikes down to Zoeterwoude Dorp. Its a small city about 3 miles south east of Leiden, it was a nice bike ride, but since everything in the Netherlands seems to close at 5pm, unfortunately, there wasn't much to see. The kids were good sports though!

Another aside, we rode bikes EVERYWHERE! Tom and I each had a kids seat on our bikes for Billy/Kay and Jimmy had his own bike, Jimmy did an amazing job! Every street has an accompanying bike lane and we saw more bikes than cars. EVERYONE rides: grandparents, new parents with babies, women in short skirts and heals, kids, you name it. Even the stop lights had a separate light for cars, bikes and people. AND, bikes ALWAYS have the right of way...I loved it!

City Hall, the place of the wedding and established in the late 1600's.

Sunday was the only day that was a bust. It rained ALL DAY!. Not a mist or a drizzle, but a true all day down pour. We started to go stir crazy about 3pm, so we decided to get on our bikes and find the indoor pool Natalie had told us about. We got horribly lost and ended riding in the down pour for 90 minutes. We were all soaked to the skin but at least we had worn ourselves out!

The weather while we were there was exactly my favorite kind of weather. Low 70's, high 60's, slightly cloudy, light drizzle everyday followed by sun. You could wear jeans and short sleeve shirt or a sweatshirt and shorts. You could ride or walk all day and not get sweaty.
Red wine and coffee tasted equally good at the end of each day.

Monday we were off for adventure again. We got a busser and headed to Den Haag. Den Haag is the center of the royalty and Parliament. Its a cool city on the North Sea and has impressive palaces, courthouse, museums and parks. Of course, on Mondays all museums are closed, but we learned a lot just walking around and reading plaques. It was the only day we indulged in fast food (KFC and McD's) and the kids were in heaven. We did find an aquarium that was open and headed for that. Always fun to see fish, eels, sharks and manta rays.

There is art in all the parks in Den Haag

Petting "zoo" in the aquarium

Billy's "bike rack" (see the below blog)

Tuesday was the day before the wedding and we thought we'd better stay close in case Wendy and Annemiek needed anything. We also had to move out of our "townhouse" and into a hiking cabin on the grounds. It was nice but smaller. Very cozy. We met Wendy, Cate and Laurie for lunch on the cannal (and I had my covetted beer at an outside cafe). Then it was off for a cannal boat tour of the city.

De Valk from the bridge before our boat tour

On the canal tour

Then, it was back to our place, more tramp and Kay decided to try and scale the pole. She must have tried 60 times and got WAY further than ANY of the boys.

Kay in her element

Wednesday was the wedding (see below for ALL the details:)

Thursday was our last full and day we decided to hit the beach. We rode our bikes the 10km to Katwijk again and spent the FULL day on the beach. We were going to try for the Space Expo again, but it was WAY too nice. We rented a little cabana, plopped down in our chairs and took turns taking naps. Jimmy swam in the waves for hours and Kay & Billy played in the sand. It was by far the nicest day of the whole trip. Beautiful!

The beach with all the holiday "go-ers"

Kay burying Jimmy

Billy digging his own grave - actually, he did dig a hole that he could crawl into.

Since most activities close by 5pm and the sun doesnt go down until after 10pm, we found ourselves with LOTS of family time. Between the trampoline, climbing poles and socializing, we also found time to teach Kay and Billy how to play solitaire. That's an interesting endevor if you ever should partake. The picked it up and now beg to play all the time

Breakfast in our hiking cabin

Our hiking cabin

It was a wonderful trip in so many ways. It was great to really spend time in 1 place and get to know the people, the culture and the daily habits. Thank god we werent in a hotel driving each other up the walls! We'd recommend this trip to ANYONE. A perfect vacation:)