Our Pesach/Spring Break this year found us with a houseful of lovely people (GranEde, GranDude, AuntKiwi and UncleD) and a planned trip across the sea to visit Holland! We were very excited to go visit someplace we hadn't seen before and excited to spend time with our extended family. Yay. But, our trip did not go quite as planned...Sadly, the visitors from the US brought with them a horrible illness. Thankfully, only they got it, but it meant that they all took turns feeling poorly and sometimes even being completely out of commission! But, everyone was a trooper and those who didn't feel up to sightseeing were alright with being left behind.
We took an overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam. It was quite an adventure. We had hoped to get the kids quickly settled and asleep before the boat left the dock, but there were too many announcements and they were too excited. We finally got settled down at about eleven pm! Not a great way to begin, but when we woke up we were in Holland.
Because Holland is such a very tiny country, we were to our rented flat well before lunchtime. There was a bit of a commotion finding the place due to the fact that there was lots of construction and only bike roads leading to the apartment complex. We met up with the lady who was letting the apartment and proceeded to drive our cars on the bike roads! It was very weird considering the fact that the roads were as wide as my car and it was clear we shouldn't really be driving on them! We got up to the apartment and what a sight awaited us.
Now, we've done this self-serviced apartment thing on almost every single vacation we've taken. Hotels are expensive and it is nice to have someplace with a kitchen, where we could make our own food and hang out in the evening. We have never had a bad or even a weird experience. Most people own self-serviced apartments as rental property and they don't live there. Well, I suppose there is a first time for everything.
This lady clearly lived in this apartment. Which was awkward. Also slightly strange was the ephemera and kitsch covering every single surface, window, wall, and piece of furniture. There were shrines and magazine clippings everywhere. There were even crystals glued to the end of the bed frame and fake fur bedspreads. It was....um...different. I could feel my shakras aligning. But, it was a place to sleep and we were all together, plus we weren't really there to spend time *in* the apartment, soooo out we went. We took the train into the city center and began to wander around.
There were bikes everywhere. And I do mean everywhere! When crossing the street you had to be careful of the bike "street", then the car "street". We saw people riding their bikes while talking on their phones, texting with two hands and we even saw someone reading their Kindle while riding their bike. The canals were beautiful. The buildings were incredibly tall and incredibly skinny. It was a lot to take in on the first day, but that is always the case.
Since we did so much in Amsterdam, I'm going to hit the highlights in no particular order.
We took a tour of Rembrandt's house. There was a fabulous audio guide for adults and a different one for children. The kids were fascinated and they all listened intently and heard all about Rembrandt and his home in Amsterdam. All of the rooms were laid out very closely (if not exactly) to how they would have been when Rembrandt lived there. There were sketching rooms, a room for specimens to sketch and even a room devoted to creating etchings just as Rembrandt would have done. We saw a lovely demonstration by a man from Seattle and he was so impressed with the kids and their listening, he asked them to help press the etching! Then he gave it to them! It was spectacular.
There was lots of interest in the Van Gough museum, where they had a fantastic kids' activity booklet which led them around the museum looking for paintings and analysing subject matter and technique. The kids were so enthusiastic about it and really, really into it. At one point PrincessE said to me, "Mum, are you having a good time? Because you are just doing this activity with us and you aren't really getting to look." I just wanted to cradle her in my arms and tell her that I would rather be no place else on earth. But instead, I looked in her face and I told her how much fun I was having with them. And it was amazing fun. After they completed their Van Gough booklets, they got to pick their very own postcard from the front desk. So lovely!
The kids took a canal paddle boat ride; two with GranDude and Dadam and two with AuntKiwi and UncleDon. GranEde and I stayed on land. I was very, very nervous about this situation. But, everyone promised they would stay seated on the boats and the adults promised to keep an eye out for the kids. Happily everyone came back, dry and having had a great time. I think The Boy-child was a bit sad he didn't get a chance to pedal, but truthfully he wasn't tall enough.
We had tried to buy tickets online for the Anne Frank house several times, but it was sold out. When we walked by there was a massive line. But I didn't want to give up. I just felt like it would be such a shame to not see the place where Anne Frank spent the last few years of her life. Thankfully everyone in the group was supportive and so we decided to stick out the line and go inside. I am glad we did. It was incredibly moving. There is no furniture in the rooms, but it was chilling to step behind the bookcase, to the hidden stairs. The apartment was so small! And dark! I could not believe what they had endured. Anne Frank is even more of a hero to me now that I have been in those tiny rooms. The children were moved as well and at the end, with tears in his eyes, The Boy child declared, "If I had been alive during that time and I was a politician, I would have told Hitler that different isn't wrong, it's just different. And to leave the Jews alone!"
The weather was not particularly nice. In fact, there was one day it was downright freezing! That day we took a tour of the Amsterdam City Museum. There was a fascinating exhibit about the city orphanage and the kids really enjoyed the interactive parts of that. There was so much interesting history about the city and the politics of the Netherlands.
I thought Amsterdam was absolutely lovely. The scenery was gorgeous, buildings amazing and just so filled with interesting, amazing things. I only wish we could have been there longer or could go back or could just live there for a couple years......