Day 5 Summer 2018: The Hague, Delft and travel to Bruges, Belgium

I had planned a few things to do in The Hague, but after getting there, I changed my mind. We wanted to get on the road to Belgium so we packed up first thing in the morning and hit the road.

Delft, known most recently for its signature blue and white pottery was just a 20 drive from The Hague on our way out of the Netherlands. I wanted to take a quick spin through the town to get a feel for what it’s all about. We quickly found a place to park and wandered to the market square. The market square, or markt, is typically the center of a small town. Larger towns may have several or markets for specific goods. Bruges, for example has the vismarket or “fish market.” Most towns have special market days in which market stalls are set up to sell goods. Sometimes specific days are for specific things, like flowers.We haven’t been able to catch any cities on market day, yet.

We stayed in Delft just under an hour, long enough to circle the market square and buy a few souvenirs. I thought it would be a good place to have some breakfast/lunch, but everyone said that they weren’t hungry.

Immediately upon returning to the car and navigating our way to the highway, everyone was suddenly STARVING. Fortunately, we spotted a Starbucks at the service area at the highway entrance, and were able to prevent death by starvation (this time).

A few hours on the road and we arrived in Bruges (say brooj), one of Europe’s most finely-preserved medieval towns. Bruges is connected to the North Sea by a canal and, like Amsterdam is a town filled with many canals, one almost completely encircling it where the medieval walls once stood. After checking in to the hotel, Jeff set out to return the rental car and the girls and I rested awhile.

When Jeff returned, we set out on foot to explore and find a proper meal. The weather was almost perfect, not too warm and sunny. There were dozens of restaurants to choose from. We settled for “Brugge Link” because of the traditional Flemish menu. (Bruges is the capital of the Belgian province of West Flanders.) It was the best meal that we have had so far this trip. Jeff had rabbit, Kiki had chicken stew, Kai the traditional “waterzooi,” and me the farmer’s plate with a 1/2 meter sausage and mashed potatoes. After dinner the kids had some gelato and went t the pool with Jeff.

I took advantage of the time to go on a self-guided walking tour of the town using the map from the hotel. When all was said and done, I walked about 4 miles weaving in and out of cobbled roadways through the northwest portion of town seeing many “often overlooked” sites (per the map legend) along the way. It was a much needed respite from my family, that gave me a good overall picture helping me to feel like we didn’t need to pack too many sights into our next day.

If I had it to do over, I would have skipped The Hague and stayed a bit longer in Bruges. I loved it very much, despite the Disneyland crowd-levels that I wouldn’t discover until tomorrow.

Goodness nacho!

Day 4 Summer 2018: Muiderslot Castle, Zaanse Schans and travel to The Hague

We got an early start today for our first experiences outside of Haarlem/Amsterdam.

Muiderslot Castle

The first stop was Muiderslot Castle just east of Amsterdam, about a 30 minute drive from Haarlem.

The grounds were beautiful, right on a canal that leads to the sea. On the way in we watched as some very large sailboats made their way through a lock system in the adjacent canal. The castle was enjoyable. Nicely maintained and small enough that we could pop in and out in less than two hours. I liked the garden the best. Kiki liked the falconry.

View from Castle tower to the canal and the see beyond.

After our castle visit, we took a turn north to visit Zaanse Schans, an open-air folk museum. I wasn’t sure what we were getting ourselves into. I was pleasantly surprised to find a mid-sized museum (Zaans museum) explaining the history of the local area and the regions’ history of industry including producing rice, starch, and paint. Attached to the museum is the “Verkade Experience” (a Dutch brand of cookies and chocolates), a large exhibit that takes you through the chocolate and cookie factory of yesteryear.

Outside, there was much to explore, but we started with some lunch, the Dutch treat pannenkoeken. Pannenkoeken are pancakes and the Dutch eat them for lunch, dinner and dessert -but not breakfast. We tried a variety including ham & cheese, salami & cheese and rum raisin. With our belly’s full, we set off to explore the exhibits.

Set up like a little 17th century village, Zaanse Schans puts local history on display. We started at the wooden shoe shop for a demonstration on how traditional wooden clogs are made. Other stops included the cheese farm, chocolate shop, bakery museum, a spice grinding windmill and a scenic stroll through the wetlands. Jeff even managed to find the distillery, the “Two Headed Phoenix,” with tastings of traditional liqueurs. It was a very beautiful location, educational, interesting even for the kids and completely overrun with bus loads of tourists.

The last thing on the agenda today was to drive to our destination for the night, The Hague. The Hague (translated from der Haag, meaning the hunting ground) is Netherlands seat of government. I was drawn in by the seaside beach area attraction, Scheveningen which is set up very similar to a beach you would find in California. Lined with restaurants and a pier loaded with amusement park style rides, Scheveningen is a weekend getaway destination. But for us, the weather was dismal (rainy and WINDY) and we were exhausted from our day. Jeff took the kids to the pool while I uploaded pictures and wrote. We ate a mediocre dinner and went to bed.

If I had it to do over again, I would have stayed in nearby more quaint, Delft.

Goodness Nacho for now!

Day 3 Summer 2018: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Now that we have luggage and a good night’s rest under our belts, we’re prepared for a museum day. After breakfast and a train ride into Amsterdam, we bought pricey tram tickets to get us across town to “Museumplein,” an area in southwest Amsterdam that is flanked by the Van Gogh museum, Stedelijk Museum (modern art) and, our destination, the Rijksmuseum.

The Rijksmuseum is the most visited museum in all of the Netherlands. It is packed to the rafters with pieces from all of the classic Dutch painters: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals and Steen. There are even a few pieces from Van Gogh.

Van Gogh, self portrait

The most famous piece is The Night Watch by Rembrandt. It was huge!

Rembrandt’s The Night Watch

Night watch

The Wilson version of The Night Watch

The floors are organized by time period. Jeff split off on his own and the kids and I went to the 3rd floor to see the modern art. My favorite piece was a piece of furniture called the “Womb Tomb.” It was made to climb inside. A little risqué, don’t you think?

We spent a few hours wandering the floors, which I thought was delightful, stopping literally seconds before the girls were to perish at the hands of boredom.

Wombtomb, 1968

After leaving the Rijksmuseum, we stopped in a pub not far from Museumplein to have a snack (and beer) before continuing on to the open-air Albert Cuyp Market.

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Dutch Poffertjes pancake treats

Albert Cuyp is similar to Pike Place Market except that it is set up on the street for several blocks in front of some shops. Some of the booths are an extension of whatever is sold in the adjacent shop (fabric, clothes, souvenirs, electronics). Other booths sell homemade wares, fresh fruits & vegetables, nuts, baked goods and fresh fish and meats. Kai and Kiki enjoyed the Dutch Poffertjes pancake treats, dusted with a generous snowfall of powdered sugar.

Just a short stroll away, we sort of stumbled upon another tourist trap, the “Heineken Experience.” Set at the location of the original brewery, established in 1867, this “experience” consisted of several compartmentalized sections. We learned about the history of the brewery, the brewing process, and Heineken’s place in sponsorship of several sporting events. There was also a “ride” that puts you Magic School Bus style into the brewing process and, finally a beer tasting, complete with the sticky floor bar atmosphere. It was super touristy, but fun even for the kids. Having used up most of our day, (most things close by 5pm) we walked to the Avis shop to pick up the car that we’d have for the next two days. Jeff drove us the 20 km back to Haarlem. Thankfully the GPS spoke English and we made our way through the city streets giggling and creating alternate names for at all of the things that we could not pronounce. We found a public pay lot for €30 (whoa $$$) and then walked back to the hotel.

Jeff immediately set out for the train to get back into Amsterdam for “Secrets of the Red Light District” tour. Jeff says, “don’t bother.

“The kids and I explored the quiet town of Haarlem, stopping for a burger (Kai says the best she’s ever had) and a photo op in front of the Molen De Adriaan, Harlem’s windmill – which was definitely on the way back to the hotel, regardless of what my consistently complaining children would tell you. Once again, we arrived back to the room mere seconds before one (or both of them) died of exhaustion/boredom/learning something new.

Goddess nacho!  (That’s the autocorrect of “goede nacht” – see what I mean about hilarious nonsense words that sound like real words?)

Day 2 Summer 2018: Amsterdam, Netherlands

We started off today in the hotel restaurant with a traditional European breakfast of tiny cups of strong dark coffee paired with assorted meats, cheeses and bread.

Haarlem Station

Shortly thereafter, we walked a few hundred yards from the hotel to the train station in Haarlem and figured out how to get the 20 kilometers or so to Amsterdam. It was pretty simple to figure out and soon the train dropped us off at Amsterdam Centraal Station.

I did a bit of research before our trip and found that with a pass called the “Holland Pass” we could see a variety of tourist attractions with one flat fee. I bought them back at home and so almost immediately upon arrival we got right down to working our way through our must see list.Amsterdam is a city full of canals, the first of which greeted us immediately upon emerging from the train station. Despite having cruddy weather, we decided that a canal cruise would be a good way to get a feel for the layout of the city.  The big take away for me, was that the name “Amsterdam” came from the fact that the city developed at the point of a dam on the Amstel river. Well, duh right? I also quite brilliantly figured out that Amstel beer is from Amsterdam. Lightbulbs are going off left and right in this crazy city.After cruising around the city, we made our way on foot to the Jordaan neighborhood to find the Anne Frank House. Tickets go on sale two months in advance and sell out quickly. We had tickets for the 2:15-2:30 window, which gave us just enough time to grab a beer and drop in to a tulip shop (bulbs) in the neighborhood.

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Anne Frank Huis

The Anne Frank “Huis” is a small somber museum at the site of the annex where Anne, her family and four others hid for four years during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. It is a very well laid out and thoughtful museum that weaves you through a labyrinth of rooms beginning with the spice & pectin business that Anne’s father set up after relocating from Germany. I enjoyed it very much. I believe we can learn a lot from the atrocities of history and this museum really punctuates that point. Kai and I read the book together last year, which made it that much more meaningful.After the Anne Frank museum we wandered around the Jordaan neighborhood a bit, stopping to have a few pastries along the way.Most things close by 5 pm (1700). One exception is the ultra-touristy Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. Jeff wasn’t interested, so he walked back to the train and set off for the hotel. I “got” to go look at wax celebrities with the kids. I recognized some of them. LOL. Kiki especially loved posing with the actual-sized super life-like figures.On the way back to the train station, we stumbled upon a colossal CHEAP clothing store, Primark. The kids enjoyed wandering, trying on clothes and spending some of their Euros.  After shopping, we stopped for a slice of pizza outside the train station, journeyed back to the hotel and delightfully found Jeff snoozing with all four of our suitcases nearby.

Goede nacht!

Day 1 Summer 2018: Travel to Amsterdam

I thought summer break would never arrive this year but here we are, on the way out of town to visit four countries in western Europe.

Our first stop is the Netherlands, which we will get to via Ireland. The last two times that flew across the Atlantic, we flew Icelandair via Reykjavik to continental Europe. It seems that perhaps Ireland was paying attention and didn’t want to miss out on the opportunities ty to ferry Americans to and from Europe. Aer Lingus started their direct flight service from Seattle to Dublin just about a month ago, on May 18. Like Icelandair, Aer Lingus also offers plenty of connections to points all over Europe.

Unfortunately, perhaps because their Seattle route is so new, they have not worked out all of the logistics to the point in of precision. What was supposed to be a roughly one hour window to get us off of one plane, through the passport check and onto another plane dwindled to about 25 minutes because of a late departure. Despite our nerves, Aer Lingus handled the transition beautifully, having “connecting agents” sift us out from the crowd and escort us through the airport, through the immigration check point and onto a bus to our gate. Which just happened to be the plane that was literally right next to the plane from which we had just disembarked.

The flight was lovely, just 90 minutes more from Dublin. What we didn’t realize at the time is that our luggage had other plans.

Upon arrival at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, after watching our flight mates collect their gear, we ended up in the baggage office filling out lost luggage paperwork. Since there wasn’t much we could do beyond that, and we had been traveling about 12 hours by now, we found a taxi and rode the 15 miles or so to Haarlem to check in to our cute little hotel: Boutiquehotel Straats.

It’s been a crazy day, but not as crazy as the slowest day at school.

Tomorrow, we’re off to Amsterdam (in yesterday’s clothes).

Wilson Family English to English Translation Guide

uk usa

Whilst in the UK we kept a list of new “English” words that learnt.

In order of appearance:
quid – £ pound (like buck)
britches – pants
trolley – grocery cart
chap – friend
holiday – vacation
bin – garbage can/trash can
rubbish – garbage
push pole – push-up popsicle
lollie – Popsicle or lollypop
chips – fries
telly – television
lemonade – lemon-lime soda (i.e. 7up)
loo – bathroom
toilet – bathroom
water closet – bathroom
jumper – sweater
way out – exit
push cart – wheelchair
pudding – dessert
super soft ice – soft serve ice cream
lift – elevator
lorry – truck
foot way – sidewalk
pavement – sidewalk
caravan – trailer (as in camping)
tube – subway
subway – pedestrian underpass
lead – leash
alight – exit
diverted traffic – detour
hump – speed bump
Sat-Nav – GPS
toastie – toasted sandwich (like grilled cheese)
with ice & a slice -with ice and lemon or lime (as in G&T)
Queue – line
pram – baby carriage
goods vehicles – delivery trucks
motorway – interstate
Wellies/Wellingtons – rubber boots
car boot – large garage sale in open field
lie in – sleep late
cot – crib
crisps – potato chips
car park – parking lot
sellotape – scotch tape
gutted – disappointed
haberdashery – things related to sewing
kit – sports uniform (as in football kit)
to let – for rent (always looked like “toilet” without the I)
marquee – large tent for temporary outdoor functions
mobile – cell phone
MP – member of parliament
nappy – diaper
mum – mom
cheeky – ballsy
peckish – hungry
pissed – drunk
plaster – band-aid
prom – concert
anti-clockwise – counter-clockwise
swede – yellow turnip
torch – flashlight
zebra crossing – crosswalk (with the white striped lines)

UK: Day Seventeen

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

Day 17:

July 1, 2013

For the last day of our trip, Jeff set out in the car for the Glenkinchie Distillery whilst the girls and I walked up to the Edinburgh Castle. What we did not realize at the time, was that HRH Queen Elizabeth II was arriving in town today and the gunners for the 19th Regiment Royal Artillery would be welcoming her with a 21-gun salute from the castle.

The local paper says, “The Royal Salute provides a great occasion for the Scottish Gunners to display their professionalism and prose in conducting such an honor in the nation’s capital city.”

After touring around the castle’s sights while completing the kid’s scavenger hunt questionnaire, we happened upon the “one o’clock gun,” a 25 pound howitzer, that is fired daily (except Sundays). It was originally used to “help sailors reset their chronometers in the days before accurate time pieces were available.
Read more about it here.
While trying to see the one o’clock gun (btw- you don’t need to see it because you can certainly hear it) a helpful tourist tipped us off that there would be a pipes band and a 21-gun salute to the queen in just over an hour. We had a nice lunch in the castle cafeteria and then scoped out a spot to take in the action. It turned out to be well over an hour of pomp and ceremony involving a brass band, a pipes band, a regiment of gunners and several miscellaneous soldiers and dignitaries. It was all pretty fascinating (to me).

IMG_0958Aside from the activities, my favorite part of the castle was the great hall, which was very reminiscent of the great hall at Hogwarts, but with lots of weaponry and armor (and no magical ceiling). I enjoyed it all very much. We got the chance to see the Scottish Crown Jewels, (aka the Honours of Scotland).  The crown, secptre and sword date to the middle ages.  They have been housed at Edinburgh castle since 1707, although forgotten for a nearly 100 years.  During WWII the “Scottish Regalia” were hidden for fear of being stolen by the Germans.  In 1953, they were returned to the Crown Room for public display.346px-Crest_of_the_Kingdom_of_Scotland.svg

There were also several museums to see within the castle, but the girls threatened to die of boredom, so we set out to explore a little more of “the royal mile” area (between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace) on foot. I had hoped to see the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, but since the queen was in town it was closed to visitors (much to the delight of the girls). Instead, we wandered into the Museum of Childhood for the several floors of displays of historical toys, games, clothing and books. The girls enjoyed a game of “snakes and ladders” and before wandering through the shops on the way back to the hotel.IMG_5515
After resting our feet for a bit, we met back up with Jeff for our last official meal of the trip. Since we were in a Scotland, I thought we should find a “chippie” (fish and chips restaurant). Bene’s didn’t disappoint. The kids enjoyed their deep fried pizza and Jeff and I tried out the local fish and chips. It was delicious, as expected, but we had so much food that we were too full to try the local favorite: a deep fried Mars bar.
Edinburgh had much more to offer. We could have spent a few more days exploring the sights, but sadly we had run out of time.
IMG_5527As I was packing up, Kai told me that she was feeling “bittersweet.” I know exactly what she meant. We’ve had some great adventures these last few weeks. The UK has been a wonderful adventure much more fantastic than I ever could have dreamed, but we are all ready to head home. We’ll have to return someday to try out the Mars bars. 🙂IMG_9219