Our first European holiday, as a family, was mighty and magical. It was more than I'd imagined it would be. Finding yourself in a church that is older than our whole entire country or just planting yourself in a square surrounded by buildings that appear to be straight out of a movie set are things some may never experience. I feel so fortunate that we got to share it with our kids. If you are contemplating an adventure across the globe 10 and 12 are perfect ages for the journey. They never complained, we'd walk 5-8 miles most days and we biked 30 miles in one day, to tip-toe through the tulips. So, if you find yourself staring at a $400 airline ticket from the states to Amsterdam, I say buy it!
We left on April 2nd (nearly one year ago), from Missoula, we flew to Seattle, then onto Holland. Our flight was not quite 10 hours, and in spite of it being an international flight, it flew by. Sleeping on an airplane isn't a forte for most, but with a screen in front of you, chock-full of movies and games, and the anticipation of a Dutch Holiday, who needs sleep? I had to beg my kids to sleep. We traveled with a bit of extended family, and stayed with them in the dreamiest airbnb. We'll get to all of that, just a disclaimer, you are most definitely going to see my little niece and nephews in some photos, they are too photogenic to resist.
International plane journeys are too exciting to close your eyes, good thing you get a weird ass mask to close them for you. Inevitably you'll end up in a hypnotic dreamland when you land, there isn't much to be done about it. We'd been advised to stay awake as long as possible to attempt to acclimate to the giant time change. We powered through our jet-lag with a puzzling trek to Haarlem, as we'd flown into the Amsterdam airport.
Each time I travel I'm reminded of how many helpers there are in our world. Some of the ticket machines don't speak English, so ALWAYS head to the ticket counter, you'll probably find you get a better deal (kids ride trains and public trans for a lower fare), and it is likely the person behind the glass has some helpful advice for you. Don't be intimidated by a language barrier, there are ways to communicate, plus in a travel destination like Amsterdam, there are loads of English speakers.
We eventually made it to Haarlem, weary, tired, our first train ride behind us, & walking the cobbled sidewalks would become very familiar to us, but reaching this destination felt really good.
Exploring our Airbnb and finding the grocery (Albert Heijn) were the first adventures, and I cannot rave enough about the Smithy! It was packed to the gills with the dreamiest tiny espresso cups, you don't drink a bowl full of coffee in Europe, like I do in America.
I took to taking a daily photo of the cup I used, the plates were just as magical.
It was practically perfect in every way, we had a fireplace, the kitchen of my dreams, banty chickens to tend to, a living room filled with wooden European toys, duck babies to rescue, a lovely bathtub, it really felt like a home away from home. All 9 of us stayed comfortably (for the most part) in the space. Bathroom privacy wasn't a thing, but we all got really comfy with one another's poop schedules. Simon and Gus slept up in the loft, and all of the kiddos would play up there non-stop when we were home.
There was a park very nearby and the grocery was just a few minutes away. Both of those destinations were at the tippy top of my list, for favorite memories. I know that might sound strange, who goes to Europe to visit a grocery store? Um, you should try it. The foods of the world fascinate me, which makes eating on vacation, my favorite! We ate a lot of friets, with mayo and Dutch snacks. The Dutch love their sauces, and you won't catch me complaining, I love a good dipping sauce with a fried snack.
Even if we weren't hungry and we found a cozy nook, we'd order a drink, just to exist in that location, even if only for a bit.
I'll compile a list of restaurants, museums, churches, parks and other destinations, as a footnote, in case you'd like to visit some of the same places we did someday. The Albert Cuypmarkt is a place I feel like we didn't spend enough time, eating.
There are a million, maybe a billion, things to do when you come to Amsterdam, we didn't plan much before we got there, but we made a plan each evening. There are some museums that require reservations in advance, the Anne Frank House is one of them. We weren't able to visit this museum because of the popularity, but if you wish to, be sure to buy tickets when you get your airline tickets. One of the things I would recommend is biking whenever possible, tandem may be the way to go with kids. Experiencing the bike culture, is invigorating. We rented tandem bikes, I'm pretty sure we would've spent some time in a hospital if we hadn't. You don't walk in a bike lane, you don't ride the wrong way in a bike lane, bikes have their own stoplights and signage that correlates with the other transportation. If you hear a bell ring, you best move. Rush hour takes on a different meaning in Amsterdam/Haarlem. Near the train stations at the finish of the work day - walk mindfully. This was complicated for our American children, hence the decision to ride tandem. We rented our bikes for 2 full days. We took a trip to the shores of the North Sea the first day, and rode all the way to Keukenhof the second day, to breathe in the tulips. The beautiful part about biking is the massive bike trail network across the country. You can really go anywhere. We never rode our bikes in the city, it was nerve-wracking to just walk in the city sometimes.
Bike helmets aren't worn by many Dutch children, we talked about it before we left the US and the boys decided they'd like to pack theirs. They always wore them on our biking adventures, we didn't make them, they wanted to. And, instead of carrying them when we arrived at our destinations, they would just keep on wearing them.
Our longest day of biking was 30 miles roundtrip, go tandem! Rent bikes, you'll experience the Netherlands in a more intimate way, and it is totally worth it. Those tulip images you see of Lisse are fer realz - magic!
Churches are another must see! There were so many that we'd hoped to visit but we didn't have enough days to add them all to our list. Something that we discovered on our very first walk through Haarlem was the Grote Kerk, it houses an organ that Mozart and Händel played and the architecture was utterly breath-taking. We knew we wouldn't pass up the opportunity to go inside of too many churches after we went in this one. The stained glass, the history, and the tombs beneath our feet kept us wanting more.
We visited the Oude Kerk Delft (Old Church) and Nieuwe Kerk Delft (New Church) and climbed to the tippy top of the New Church on a staircase that challenged each bit of my being, especially because my kids were with me. Thank goodness I make pit stick, because it was put to the test that day, with my stress sweats.
Up next, Museums. If you live in Amsterdam, I don't even know if it is possible to visit all of the museums. If you visit, you better make a list. We squished in visits to the Teyler's Museum in Haarlem (the oldest museum in the Netherlands) and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. We had to pick and choose, and you could easily spend a few days in each museum.
Parks are easy to stumble upon. We found so many that were glorious walks through the woods, greenery and flowers. In addition to the big one at Keukenhof, the smaller parks we would happen upon were filled with treasures, plant-life we don't have in our neck of the woods, art, even gnomes and fairies. If you have an hour to spare, I bet there is a park nearby.
Before I wrap this up, I highly recommend a canal tour, somewhere. We took ours in Haarlem, Smidtje Canal Cruises. And, don't forget to find a windmill. We got to go inside of De Zandhaas, well worth the adventure getting there (and back home) to experience a powerful working windmill.
Until Next Time, Hamsterdam! xo
The list: If I linked a location above, I'll spare you the second link down here. St Bavo Church, Haarlem, The Netherlands, Chefs Burger, Burgemeester Rijkenspark, Haarlem railway station, RAI Amsterdam (for Vidcon Europe!), Eindpunt, Bloemendaal aan Zee, Keukenhof - the Tulips garden, Holland, Lisse Keukenhof, & I'm sure so many I've forgotten. #iamsterdam xo