So for the last three days I’ve dragged my kids through Amsterdam like a pair of Samsonite roller bags – and the wheels were definitely getting a little creaky! But it’s also been a blast! When I spoke to them about spending time in Switzerland I tried to sweeten the deal – because they are 7 and 10 and spending time in a foreign country away from friends and the Wii isn’t as seductive as you would imagine. So I made a pact with them that we could go visit any European city of their choosing. Amsterdam won out because it was budget friendly, a quick 2 hour flight away, and had the Anne Frank museum that both Maya and I wanted to visit. Adam wanted to see Paris but I’m not taking a 7 year old with no iota of appreciation for art or architecture or wine or really any food other than chicken nuggets and hot dogs, to the most expensive city in Europe!
Next I started looking for places to stay in Amsterdam. Since we started traveling with kids, we usually try and stay at a place with a pool because that’s what they love doing. But this time I wanted to be out exploring a new city and meeting locals, not stuck in a hotel so I decided to try out Airbnb for the very first time – which was more than a little nerve wracking! I picked a room in Marta’s house, a quick 30 minute bus ride outside the city which turned out quite well. The room itself was cozy and with a foldout bed for Adam it was a tight fit but it was quiet and comfortable. Marta, who is originally from Portugal, prepared some delicious breakfasts for us every morning and the kids loved playing with her dog, Casper, and two cats, Piglet and a beautiful, all black cat named Bruxa (Portuguese for “witch”).
But let’s start at the beginning, and Day 1: We get into Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport at 2 pm and ride the train into the city center. We drop off our bags at the convenient lockers in the train station – just 5 Euros to store a suitcase and backpack, and then we are off to explore the city. First order of business, a canal cruise! Every guidebook and website has really hyped this up so we dutifully trudge over to the closest cruise lines and embark on our canal trip. It is actually quite nice and very informative – which is exactly what two kids like after a 2 hour airplane ride….said no child ever!! Every picture I take of them on the boat show grumpy, tired, bored-out-of-their-gourd kids – so I just photograph the lovely houses on the sunny banks of the beautiful canals… and pretend I am alone! Which actually works out quite well.
Next we walk down the Damrak – the main street from the station with über touristy shops selling all kinds of Dutch kitsch! As we pass the Sex Museum with the enormous phallus in the doorway, I quickly point out the completely random and boring building on the other side of the street – phew, dodged that bullet!! A few 100 meters down the Damrak is the home of Amsterdam’s most famous fries – or so the shop claims but I don’t see any independent verification so I’m just going to say that the fries are very very good. But, oh my good lord, the portion sizes are out of control. I order two medium and one large and end up throwing away about 90% of mine after physically not being able to eat another fry! Also, I get mine Dutch style loaded with mayonnaise which is now my favorite way to eat fries!
We continued to walk down the Damrak with our giganormous cones of Flemish fries, all the way to the Royal Palace and Dam Square. The kids take turns antagonizing the pigeons by tossing them a fry at a time and watching the birds engage in a Hunger Games style battle for each fried potatoe-y morsel! We check out the memorial to World War II and make our way to Nieuwmarkt. We walk down the most gorgeous streets lined with narrow Dutch houses with beautiful carved wood doors and stained glass windows, flanked by the canals and crazy Dutch people riding bicycles like maniacs – and you have to watch out for them because in this city, the bike is king!
At Nieuwmarkt we meet my friend J, a doctor in Amsterdam who is completing his residency. J was a research fellow at the Medical College of Wisconsin where I did my doctorate and post-doc and we both worked in the same lab. The really cool thing about doing a post-doc is that you get to make friends with wonderful people from all over the world and when you find yourselves in their part of the planet – you can call them up and hang out again! J and his charming and beautiful girlfriend (I think all Dutch by law have to be gorgeous!) L, take us to a little “brown cafe” called Van Beeren where we eat spare ribs with garlic sauce and chat about our lives. The kids, who by this time have consumed their body weight in fries, can only manage to eat some ice cream … and more fries!! But it’s getting late and we still have to get to our bed and breakfast so we regretfully leave J and L, and make our way back to Central Station through Amsterdam’s terribly incongruous, but completely fascinating Chinatown! That’s right – you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Dutch Chinatown!
And then it’s a bus ride under the IJ, the Amsterdam waterfront, to North Holland. Thankfully Marta has provided me with turn by turn directions to get to her place from the bus stop – including pictures so even though it’s dark and quiet and just a tad creepy being in a foreign city with two kids in a completely strange neighborhood – we make it to Marta’s house, get a tour, and collapse like soggy Flemish fries in mayonnaise onto our beds. Tomorrow we will be up bright and early for Day 2!
Note: Again, I must beg your indulgence for this tedious blow-by-blow account of our trip. But I am rapidly losing my memory and one day I’d like to read my blog and remember too, so please bear with me!