Europe, we are back!! We followed the laws and left Europe for 3 months, as required by the silly Schengen Agreement (aka: How to Annoy Americans And Make Them Travel To Places They Never Thought To Go But Then They Ended Up Enjoying South Africa So They Thank You). But now we are back and we have 3 more uninterrupted months to explore Europe as we see fit.
First stop: Holland! First impressions: Brrrrr!
We had another successful Continental Transition thanks to a ginormous Emirates plane, a direct flight and arriving during the daylight hours. That is really our recipe for success.
We checked into a small apartment in central Amsterdam with “death stairs” that we are pretty sure are going to take someone’s life, or at least a piece of their spine, very soon. But the apartment has 3 bedrooms and internet that is at the speed of light (compared to what we’ve been getting recently), so the kids were really happy (read: Haley was happy and Zoe was sad to see Haley’s door closed all the time). The 1 bathroom was a little more inconvenient but we are making it work.
We have no specific goals for our time here and no rush of time to do them in so we’ve spent the first week just exploring. We have no need for a car and haven’t even used Uber or a taxi. Just the feet, folks. And boy is it a lot of walking! We’ve explored all kinds of areas, squares, parks, plazas and restaurants. Haley has a new daily requirement of croquettes, Dan has re-discovered shwarma (fun fact: Dan lived in the Netherlands for two years, 30 years ago while stationed in the military) and Zoe discovered a coffee shop that has a very relaxed cat. Suddenly Zoe loves coffee. Atta girl! We have all discovered the awesome french fries (frites) and all the varieties of frites sauce. Dan was recently heard to say, “The french fries are not meant to be a spoon for the sauce, Allison.” His attempt to control what I use for utensils was unsolicited and unhelpful.
Here in Amsterdam we are keeping our schedule very very loose. We really are only planning one thing a day. By the time we get up and get going, walk to our destination, stop for croquettes, cat petting, dog petting, canal gazing, souvenir store checking out and our daily frites requirement, it takes us awhile to get anywhere or do anything. Here are a few tidbits from our first week:
This is Amsterdam’s most popular museum. Judging from all the people there, I believe it. It sure was extensive and we were a bit overwhelmed after downloading the app and starting in the room depicting the country in the 1600’s. I saw Zoe’s eyes go wide, look left, then right, then glaze over. Haley calls this “Zoe’s selective enthusiasm”. Whatever it was, I decided we needed an intervention. The family agreed to separate and see the things that interested each of us. Zoe and I headed upstairs to Rembrandt’s famous painting The Night Watch and checked that out for awhile. After I felt that Zoe was sufficiently educated (read: she could say “I’ve seen that painting” and impress her future college admissions counselors and in-laws), we checked out a few other areas. We saw neat Delft pottery, a dollhouse exhibit, a room full of boat paintings and some neat silver cups. It was random but we liked it. Haley and Daniel
were overwhelmed wrapped up their viewing shortly after Zoe and I . Turns out they never found Rembrandt’s painting so who is the better homeschooler now? We agreed that the museum was rather interesting but at the same time stuffy, artsy museums are not our favorite place. We have to take them with a grain of salt. But it was warm so there’s that.
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
Zoe may not have been as intrigued by the Rijksmuseum but boy was she excited for the wax museum. When Zoe does research on opening and closing times, how long the average person spends there and where it is located, sends that research to the entire family via WhatsApp and then suggests which day we should go, you know she is serious. We encourage this planning adult-ish behavior so the day after the Rijksmuseum we went out to the wax museum. Zoe was up and ready to go first.
The wax museum was pretty much like it sounds. We had fun taking pictures and learning how they make the wax figurines (wow is that a process!). Haley decided to go full-on cheesy and got a wax replica of her hand to send to a special someone in Texas, which we debated as to whether it was sweet or creepy. When it broke and one finger fell off it totally fell into the creepy category.
We were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see an old friend and her kids whom we had met in Mexico. We met up at Vondel Park and had a great time exploring all the different play structures and petting all the dogs. Zoe was in heaven with all the dogs and having a friend to play with. When Zoe has an active day of playing outside, the whole family wins.
Unbeknownst to us, we arrived just in time for King’s Day (Koningsdag). This day is celebrating the current King’s birthday. It used to be called “Queen’s Day” since the reigning monarchs have been women from 1890 until 2013. Back when it was Queen’s Day, it was celebrated on the 30th coinciding with the birthday of the Queen at the time (Juliana). But the following Queen’s birthday (Beatrix) was in the winter, so they just kept it at the previous Queen’s birthday because, well, who wants to party outside in the winter?? But then the King was crowned in 2013 and since his birthday was the 27th of April, they changed it again to his birthday and now it’s called “King’s Day”.
Whew! Got all that?
There have been only 7 Monarchs since the current royal house was formed in the early 1700’s. Four men and 3 women. And as you can probably gather, their royal house is called the “House of Orange”. (Actually, it’s official title is “House of Orange-Nassau”.)
All of this means the city of Amsterdam turns into one big party and everyone wears orange. DJs set up and start blasting music the night before, beer trucks make massive deliveries, porta potties and garbage cans get set up and everyone dons orange for the big day. The girls and I ventured out early to see what was going on and had a good time people-watching. Dan joined us later (he cannot tolerate the cold for very long and we cannot tolerate him not tolerating the cold for very long). We survived Carnaval in Panama so we know how this works. Compared to Carnaval it was a lot more organized and less chaotic. Maybe the cold temps kept people under control. But it was a great party to watch from our vantage point and even better, the city was in great shape the next morning, with trash mostly picked up and life returning to normal.
We are all enjoying Amsterdam, to varying degrees. Dan loves the internet and the shwarma and the mostly organized society. Haley loves the canals, croquettes, mini and many forms of transportation. Zoe loves all the cute cats and dogs and the owners who are happy to stop for a pet and a chat. I love the urban city vibe, all the bikes and canals and the ease of getting around, along with the safety of being able to do it by myself. The girls have even had some freedoms of going to the grocery store by themselves or checking out the cat coffee shop without that annoying parental supervision.
I admit that the unusually cold temps are a bit uncomfortable. We are just not used to cold weather. We were laughing the other day that we have been to many places where they make coffee. That’s just our climate: tropical. We find ourselves all running out of socks, needing another layer and digging through our suitcases for the long pants that we haven’t worn for awhile. It’s supposed to warm up next week, though, and after that I’m assuming Holland will be make it to the “favorite country” list.
After a week of city living, we have found our next Airbnb and are prepared for a transition tomorrow. We found a great house just outside the city for a semi-decent price (nothing in most of Europe is cheap) where we will settle in for the month of May. The month has a lot of things to look forward to: Dan is going to the USA where he will be loading up on new electronics for 50% of the family (methinks all the travelling and voltage changes has fried my computer because it died after less than 2 years). My sister, Margaret, will be visiting us in Amsterdam while Dan is in the USA, Zoe will celebrate a birthday and we will zip off to a short jaunt to Paris, since it’s just down the road. You better clear your schedule, there’s going to be a lot of blog posts in May.
This video is to give you a little taste of the King’s Day party.