You can come out, Mina! The Netherlands is very nice. You’re going to love it!
And it has BIKES! This is the small city where we’re staying, Haarlem. It’s just a 15-minute train ride from central Amsterdam, but we thought it might be a little more relaxing after the bustle of Paris. This shot is right outside the train station, so these are probably bikes belonging to folks who cycled to the train station, then hopped on the train. We fell in love with the Dutch lifestyle immediately, as you’ll see.
Heck, even the deliveries are green here!
This little bridge was on our daily commute between our hotel and the train station.
Here we are walking toward the hotel – but first we have to get around this giant church.
Do you see that I’m carrying three backpacks? We’ve gotten into the habit of filling the kids’ bags with treats and games for the plane rides. But then we have to haul them from point to point with us.
Hey, that looks familiar! Yep, our bike seats (Yepp brand, in fact) are Dutch. There are no direct sales to the US, so Yen had to order them specially. In hindsight we should have come to fetcht them.
Most of the area around our hotel was pedestrian and bike only, so the kids were able to roam free at last. In the last post, I believe I mentioned some challenges with Linus (behavior-wise). He relaxed right away when we made our way to Haarlem, and he stayed fairly calm throughout the visit. So I guess it was the people and noise and cars and chaos that had gotten to him. Duly noted for future trips!
It wasn’t quite dinner time, so we took a stroll around town.
Linus found quite a lot to admire in the different bike options.
Oh, and the artifacts of life along a gentle coastline.
The weather was just what we wanted. After mid-80s in Paris, it only reached the mid-60s each day we were in the Netherlands.
We discovered that while there are small playgrounds scattered around Amsterdam, in Haarlem most of them are private. We found this one just as it was closing. You’ll learn more about private playgrounds at the end of the post – stay tuned!
I just said that Linus was relaxed, but when we told him he couldn’t play here after just discovering it, he was absolutely furious. I can’t blame him at all.
We made it up to him with this little windmill. We weren’t allowed to go up, though. The woman inside said, “We’re closed now, but anyway we don’t have insurance so kids under 5 cannot take the tour.”
It bears mentioning that this was exactly what she said. Everyone there spoke beautiful English, and we discovered that most folks default to it when speaking to strangers. You just never know who you’re about to encounter.
We sat by the canal for a while and finally calmed Linus down completely. And began to discuss dinner.
Hey, a skeleton!
Yen captured quite a few shots of what I guess you’d call the artifacts of life elsewhere. Here’s a special container so cigarette butts aren’t just dropped randomly. It was so clean everywhere there!
This little A to Z sculpture was outside our hotel. The kids began and ended each day by scaling it.
I think after everything he did to her in Paris, Mina was naturally skeptical of Linus’s affection.
Dance party in the street!
We had dinner at Cafe Colette next door to the hotel. I had a tiny roast chicken with asparagus and a really nice glass of wine. The kids has pasta with wild mushrooms. And Yen ordered steak tartare not knowing what it was. Luckily he loved it.
This was a post-dinner walk. It was a quiet day because the government had released new regulations, so everything closed early. I don’t fully understand that. Maybe you’ll all meant to go home and learn the new rules? Seems reasonable.
A little after-dinner treat! Mina has a great ice cream technique that we now all use. She asks, “Do you want me to punch it down?” Which means she takes her tiny spoon and pushes your ice cream down into the cone. That way as eat the cone, you still have ice cream to enjoy! Please keep in mind that only she may punch it down.
I had an amaretto cone, which was delicious. Linus said it tasted like cherry.
So many biking solutions!
In the central market square there’s a big building, Vleeshal, which houses an archaeological museum and an art museum. It used to be a meat market, hence the alarmed look on this bull’s face.
More options for family biking. The little box in front of her is for teeny kids to sit in.
Here we are the next morning heading to what we thought would be Linus’s favorite day of the whole trip. (We were right.)
He couldn’t have been more excited about all of the public transportation involved in this portion of the trip. Some trains had two levels, some had one. Later we’ll take a boat, and then a tram.
You probably can’t read it, but the sign at the top of these stairs leading to the street from the train station says “Windmills” and has a little arrow…
Ta da! This little town, Zaanse Schans, has 8 preserved but working windmills, some as old as the 1600s. I don’t think you could invent a better destination for us.
It was a little more than a mile from the station to the windmills, which we could have walked easily. But we figured, when in Rome… This was my first time riding with Mina in the front (she’s there, you just can’t see her), and it was quite an experience. With a little more practice, I think I could handle it all the time. But this was a real journey, and I was terrified every time I had to stop or start.
We actually got separated from Yen and Linus because the drawbridge went up for the little boat in the previous photo.
We locked our bikes (next to about 50 others) and wandered into the little town.
The houses are actually occupied. They’re pristine and historic on the outside, but through the windows (don’t worry – we didn’t press our faces to the glass), you could see the artifacts of modern life. The little cottages were so charming, but there’s no way I’d want to live inside a tourist attraction.
The trees lining this walk were willows. Not weeping willows, just willows. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before.
Unfortunately these aren’t real cheeses – it’s just an exhibit on how cheese is made. But the real stuff was for sale in the next room.
Don’t let Linus’s little sourpuss fool you: he was overjoyed by all this. I think he was in the middle of demanding to go inside one of the windmills when Yen snapped this shot.
OK, fine. We’ll go inside. But BE CAREFUL!
You have NEVER seen me as nervous as I was in here. The huge grinding machine was out in the open, and you’ll see in a moment that we have to climb a rickety ladder that goes right over the grinder in order to get to the top.
That stern posture is me doing everything I can to keep my hands from snatching the kids away.
Oh jeez, here we go. Hold on! Hold ON!
Fine, I’ll admit that it was really neat at the top.
Look closely at this photo, and you’ll see a tiny gate with a red sign. On that sign is a skull and a single word: STOP. The kids said, “Is that because you’ll get dead if you go past that?” Yes. Yes, you will.
Whew! Back on the land, safe and sound! Hm. Now we’re all feeling pretty hungry…
We found a snack bar that had exactly what Yen was looking for: herring sandwich. In the end he didn’t go for it, but watched while the kids had ice cream and I ate a little chocolate muffin.
Back to the train for the next adventure!
About fifteen minutes on the train, and now we’re at Amsterdam Central station! What should we do?
Boat tour, of course.
See what Linus is reading? It’s the brochure from the windmill town. He carried it home and on the plane, and it’s sitting on his dresser as I write this. We had to tape the seams so it would last. He’s been using it as a guide to construct windmills from every material and toy he can find.
Boat tours are rather popular, as you can see.
Who the heck is this??? Oh, it’s Yen. He got out from behind the camera for just a second.
We finally left the boat and decided to take a little walking tour.
This building is the Rijkmuseum (“national museum”). Linus was furious that we didn’t go inside. I guess we’ve done a good job of teaching them that museums are fun. The spider-like sculpture in the foreground made up for it. A little.
What really helped was this playground.
Mina found her dream car.
And another playground???
Linus was terrified of this slide until we forced him down. Then he didn’t want to leave.
I demonstrated proper hop-scotching.
This was a fateful dinner. The restaurant had rave reviews and a line out the door, but they squeezed us into a table right by the front. Not the best table, but at least we were there. The food was outstanding. But… Hang on and you’ll see. Just remember that big pot of mussels on the right, which is what Linus ordered.
After dinner we took a stroll through the park.
Which seems to be a popular commuter route.
We played our usual game: police. You have to run, and then officers Linus and Mina catch you and issue speeding tickets.
We tried to catch the last boat back to the station, but we missed it.
Instead, we ended up on a tram.
Then we hopped on a train. Halfway through the ride, Linus vomited mussels all over himself, Yen, the train seat, and even a wee bit on a very understanding man. And so we walked back to the hotel with a bit of misery. At which point I announced that I wasn’t feeling great either. I’d shared a few of Linus’s mussels…
The next morning, I had no stomach for breakfast – including vending machine food. Ugh. Linus and I had spent the whole night vomiting every hour.
Linus seemed pretty much normal again, but I felt positively hungover. Yen bought me a cup of ginger tea, and I started to feel as if I could at least walk around a bit. Slowly.
We debated the wisdom of another boat tour, but I’ve never really had trouble with seasickness, so we climbed on board. It was the right move. The other passengers must have thought I was insane or drunk, but I just put my head down on the table while Yen and the kids enjoyed the ride. It was about this time that I started to think maybe it had been a bug, not food poisoning.
We took a walking tour of a couple of famous bridges, and then I announced that the only thing that could cure me was phở.
See? Now I look almost human again! This was at Rembrandt Square, as you can probably guess from the reenactment of his famous painting, The Night Watch.
We headed toward a botanical garden, Hortus Botanicus, not sure whether we’d go inside. But as we came around the corner Linus spotted a giant cactus and the matter was closed.
It occurs to me that I keep talking about things Linus is excited about. Maybe you’re wondering, “What about Little Mina?” That lady is happy wherever we go, and takes her own fun along the way. She hasn’t really developed her things the way Linus did (very early, if you remember). She loves animals and pink things, but mostly she just wants to be where the action is. I promise that when she starts to express preferences, we’ll be all over them!
I was feeling better, but not better enough to climb a spiral staircase in a steamy greenhouse.
Another thing for Linus: the carnivorous plant garden. Every time there’s a fruitfly in our house (which is often), he says, “See? If only we had a pitcher plant…”
Yeah, that was me a lot. A series of little catnaps.
I look like I’m sleeping, but see Mina’s little feet sticking out?
And wow, a playground across the street!
Mina announced that there would be a dance show.
Back at Amsterdam Centraal.
All of the staircases have little gutters along the side. They’re actually for taking bikes up and down the stairs.
We had gotten off the train at Haarlem station. Unfortunately Yen left his phone and all of our credit cards on the train! We had 35€ to our name. That would have to take us through the next 24 hours until we got on a plane. Yen stopped at a grocery store while I took the kids on to the hotel (I fortunately had a spare key in my pocket). He bought croissants, cheese, ham, fruit, tiny apple pies, raisin bread, chocolate digestive biscuits, and little boxes of chocolate milk. We had a feast for 12€! That actually got us through dinner and breakfast the next day. We spent another 8€ on pastries for lunch the next day. Frugal travelers!
Mina has a car, now she needs a motorbike!
What could we do with no money? Well, remember I mentioned private playgrounds? We headed over to one. You pay 1€ per child, and it’s full of climbing structures, toys, and of course other kids. There is coffee and tea for the adults for an additional 50 cents. Everyone just sits around chatting, and if one child falls down, the nearest adult helps him or her up. It was so wonderfully civilized. Which was the word we kept coming back to the for the Dutch. Could we please move there???
Mina asked to have a photo next to the purple flowers.
I think but don’t know for sure that this is a mural of the founder of the playground. I saw a photo that looked similar inside the office. It seems he’s no longer living, but the playground goes on as a tribute.
Ah ha! Those pastries I mentioned. They’re from a fantastic bakery that’s on the location of an old mill. Linus pointed out the millstone as we went inside.
On the way back to the hotel was a souvenir shop. We couldn’t buy anything, but at least I could try on the giant clogs.
We had been so frugal, in fact, that we had money left over for more ice cream.
Remember when I said I thought it was a bug, not food poisoning. Linus vomited three more times on the plane on the way home, and Mina finally did too at the end. They arrived in Customs wearing underwear and jackets. Oh well. We were back home, safe and sound, and ready to cope with jet lag.
As for our lost phone and credit cards, there is a happy ending. A nice Dutchman found them on the train and managed to get in touch with us, though after we had already returned home. He eventually sent them to us via airmail and all was well thanks to the kindness of strangers.