“I can’t wait to go to Hamsterdam!” our four-year-old exclaimed shortly after we booked our late-March weekend trip. And while a city full of giant, fuzzy rodents driving clear plastic balls to work or walking around town through colorful tubes sounded awesome, we had to break the news to her that Amsterdam did not have an “H” at the beginning of it. But (almost as cool?) there were going to be tulips. Millions of tulips, maybe gazillions. Tulips in every color: blooming here, blooming there, blooming like they just don’t care!
Our EasyJet flight from Basel was not as easy as the name suggests, but it was very well-priced and got us there safely, albeit a bit late in the evening. We didn’t arrive till after 11 p.m. Friday night, and though we were all tired and bogged down with luggage, we still managed to squeeze our way into the back of a packed double-length Airport Express bus that would drop us off near-ish to our hotel. Now, you may recall our Castle Neuschwanstein bus ride from hell (Hassle At The Castle (Neuschwanstein). This one was worse. Apparently, the Neuschwanstein bus driver took a promotion and moved to Amsterdam to drive the Airport Express (emphasis on Express) and we spent 25 nauseating minutes being thrown into the people standing around us while our seven-year-old gave us not-so-subtle hints that she was about to puke. On the positive side, we did find out just how friendly and helpful the locals are, and that they all speak excellent English. One gave up her seat for our sick little one, another held open the door when we could not get through the crowded bus fast enough at our stop, a third spent several minutes talking us through how to walk to our hotel, and yet another kept commenting on why would you ever try to take this much luggage and two little kids on a late night bus from the airport instead of just getting a cab. Oh wait, that last one might have been Jana. We tried to pep ourselves up with visions of how beautiful the tulips would be tomorrow in the daylight and, especially, at the famous tulip gardens we had tickets to. Maybe we’d even find a hamster, or at least Miffy.
But in yet another “Wally World’s closed” turn of events for us, due to the cold spring the tulips were not yet blooming (or perhaps Miffy had gotten stoned the night before and went on a tulip-eating binge). We had booked a trip to Keukenhof, the famous tulip gardens, many weeks before, arriving on their first weekend of the season (they wouldn’t be open if there weren’t any tulips yet, right?). But, luckily for us, Keukenhof has a pretty rad playground with a zip line, giant klompen shoes, a windmill and, yes, Miffy (who was looking a bit guilty, if you ask me).
They had several indoor tulip and orchid gardens, which were in full bloom and were pretty incredible. Even the seven-year-old was impressed. Rainbow tulips? These must be what unicorns eat!
Despite the overcast, showery weather and no outdoor tulips, Keukenhof was still a great introduction to Holland and even our most finicky traveler had a great time.
Later that same afternoon, we made our way to the Van Gogh Museum in the museum district of Amsterdam. Now, is it pronounced Van Go or Van Goff? The museum’s own audio tour and Doctor Who say Van Goff, but maybe they are just being pretentious with a fancy accent? It couldn’t be that I’ve been saying it wrong for decades? The mystery continues.
Of his about 860 paintings, most of them painted just in the last two years of his life, the museum collection shows about 200 of them. They didn’t allow photos of the art, but they were incredible to see up close, and the audio tour delved into both his process and the more tragic parts of Van Gogh’s life.
Overall, the adults loved this museum. We rented the audio headsets for all four of us. The seven-year-old completest among us was interested in seeing/hearing everything on the tour, but the interest level of the four-year-old evaporated after the first floor (there were a total of three). She spent the rest of the time either sliding around on the floor pretending to be Vincent’s kitty, dramatically draped over one of the benches in a this-is-soooooo-boring-I’m-exhausted-and-starving pose, or feigning temporary interest after yet another mint was found in mommy’s purse. However, even just being able to walk through the entire museum with both kids was massive improvement upon our previous art museum experience in Paris just last summer.
One of the main reasons for our trip to Holland (besides the promise of tulips) was to meet up with our cousins from California again (we had previously met up with them in Venice last July). So, on Sunday we spent the day catching up with them and checking out the Rijksmuseum (pronounced “can you point me to the famous museum that starts with an ‘R’ “?).
A much larger museum with more diverse works, the Rijksmuseum can easily take a whole day to get through. We didn’t spend that long, but did enjoy the Rembrandts and our company!
After the ‘R’ Museum (Barry’s cousin calls it the ‘Riki-Jiki’), we headed to the canals and a boat tour we had booked in tandem with the Keukenhof tickets. While Barry waited in a long line to figure out how electronic tickets worked, Jana channeled her dad and just asked the lady at the boat nicely if there was room for four more on the one leaving right then even though we couldn’t find our tickets right that moment. To everyone’s surprise except Jana and her dad, the lady said no problem and everyone hopped on.
The famous Amsterdam canal tour boats are often referred to as the “let us help your kids take a 40-minute nap as we motor around the old town” tour. They lived up to their billing, and Barry and Jana enjoyed a peaceful, comfortable and beautiful cruise. (In the pic with Jana/C below you can see by the couple behind us that naps are not restricted to just the 12-and-under set!) Everyone wins!
After waking up the kids and disembarking, we headed further into the old town to see the Anne Frank House. Despite trying to reserve tickets for a tour a couple months in advance, we came up empty-handed and settled for an outside view.
We finally made our way back to our hotel. This trip was a bit special in that we broke open our Hilton Honors points piggy bank and stayed in a full-service hotel (it happened to be the same one where John Lennon and Yoko Ono had their famous bed-in in 1969) and not the usual AirBnB. They gave us two rooms with a connecting door, as most hotel rooms in Europe are not large enough for more than three people. On the second night, the girls discovered that you could pick up one of those weird machine thingys with the curly cord on the desk and dial the other room. These phones, as the girls soon learned they were called, provided hours of entertainment and also an introduction to the art of the prank call. Add in room service, maid service that arranged their stuffed animals in funny ways each day and the free breakfasts in the lobby, and they were hooked.
There was so much to see–we didn’t even get into all the bikes, the NEMO science museum, the swing at the top of the skyscraper, and more–we will just have to find our way back. We did get to the waffles and poffertjes (small fluffy, donut-like pancakes), they are as amazing as you think they are, and certainly worth a return visit!