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

UK: Day Sixteen

Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall
Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall

Day 16:

June 29, 2013

Today we had to cover the most distance of any of our driving days – 185 miles/300 km (4 hours driving time). We set out for what Jeff thought was a “driving day.” Once we were on the way, I mentioned “a quick stop on the way” (Housesteads Roman Fort at Hadrian’s Wall).
IMG_0991According to Wikipedia, Housesteads “was an auxiliary fort on Hadrian’s Wall in the Roman province of Britannia.” Hadrian’s wall was a “defensive fortification in Roman Britain.” Built beginning in AD 122 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and abandoned in the 4th century, its purpose is believed to have been to mark the northern reaches of the Roman Empire and prevent the “barbarians from the north” from invading. Our quick stop took close to two hours, but it was well worth it. Although the fort was in ruins, there was an short informative movie that helped us all visualize what it would have looked like.

Along the northern edge, we were able to stand up on the wall and gaze at the peacefully grazing sheep on the rolling hills toward Scotland. I didn’t see any barbarians, but what do I know?
Read about Housesteads here.
Read about Hadrian’s Wall here.

 

IMG_5560We were all parched (or is it peckish?) so we attempted to find a place to eat. Hahaha. There was nothing for miles and miles and miles except tiny roads with randomly placed traffic circles that kept us constantly wondering which direction we were traveling. Tommi (the Sat-Nav) directed us right to a closed road on the main artery to our destination. We followed the “diversion” signs to discover that the road was closed because of a cycling race. As we we happening along, we thought we had come upon a major accident because there were several police cars and motorcycles blocking the road. As we waited, we saw motorcycles clearing the roadway. Next, the pace cars buzz by followed by a massive clump of cyclists and then a dozen support vehicles each loaded with a roof full of bikes. The whole procession passed in about three minutes. Then, the police re-opened the road and we were on our way. It was pretty neat to be tooling along out in the middle of nowhere (we were actually in the middle of Northumberland National Park) and to have a little show appear and then disappear just like nothing ever happened.

IMG_5465We travelled several more miles and finally crossed the border into Scotland. The landscape changed quite dramatically. In England, there were mostly rocky rolling hills covered with sheep. As we passed onto Scotland, the landscape became more mountainous with forests and low lying brush filled valleys (also with sheep). The roads did not improve either. As it was Sunday, there was a lot of traffic, particularly motorcycles, horse trailers and “caravans” (motorhomes). We had a few brushes with terrifying oncoming traffic, but we survived.

Not long after crossing into Scotland, we finally found a place (a gardening store of all places) to stop and have a quick bite before continuing on to Edinburgh.

Upon arriving in Edinburgh, we discovered that the hotel had “no car access.” Not what I had hoped for at the end of a long day, but we found a parking garage several blocks away and we schlepped ALL of our treasures to the hotel (it took two trips) to check-in. After settling in, we set out on foot to find a proper dinner. We found a place called “The Filling Station” that was supposed to be “American” food. Tiring of Steak and Ale Pie and the sorts, we happily settled in for cheeseburgers before calling it a night.

I had a hard time sleeping. Edinburgh is at 55 degrees N latitude making the days especially long this time of year. The sun did not set until just past 10 and then rose again around 4:30 in the morning. The sky never did go completely dark. It was magical in its own way.

UK: Day Fifteen

Day 15:

June 29, 2013

View from Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm
View from Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm

After breakfast, we started out the day with a drive up to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm. Beatrix bought the house and its 36 acre farm after the success of her first few books. She went on to buy several more houses and farms in the area, leaving them to the National Trust when she died. She did a great deal to preserve the natural beauty of the surrounding area. She was also a sheep farmer. Read about it here. (Who knew?)

Mr. McGregor!
Mr. McGregor!

I enjoyed the house and gardens very much. The girls and I were able to look around her house and the surrounding homes and gardens to see several of the scenes that she used in the illustrations of her stories. Although the house had no written information, as she requested it be left just as she had left it (right down to a fire in the fireplace and fresh flowers throughout the house), the docents were talkative and and enjoyed sharing bits and pieces of Beatrix’s world with us. We found Tom Kitten’s gate, Mr. McGregor’s garden and even an egg laid by Jemima Puddle-duck in the rhubarb patch.
From Hilltop, we walked a few hundred yards down the narrow road so the girls could play on a nearby playground. Then, we made our way through the Skinner maze back toward our home base.

The roads today were even crazier than yesterday because, being Saturday, there was a lot more traffic that was going a lot faster down an even narrower road bordered by illusive rock walls disguised by greenery. I watched the car ahead of us as its driver side mirror whizzed by the opposing traffic with centimeters to spare. At one point, we had an abrupt meeting with a tour bus (see day 15 photos) that could have ended badly, but was mostly just entertaining at this point (we’re seasoned now).

"Ploughman's Lunch"
“Ploughman’s Lunch”

Along the way, we happened by a random neighborhood pub in the middle of nowhere so we stopped in for a pint and some lunch. When we got back to town, Jeff took the girls “crazy” golfing (mini golf) and I explored the little town. We met up for a dip in the hotel pool and happened upon some pleasant conversation with a local woman and her young daughter in the hot tub. It was interesting to compare info (for example, the kids don’t let out for summer until July 27th here). After the pool, we cleaned up and set out for a nice long walk to Lake Windermere, the nearest lake. On the way back from the lake, we happened upon another local pub and had a nice dinner while listening to some live local music. It was another great day.
Tomorrow we’re off to Scotland!

Lake Windermere
Lake Windermere

UK: Day Fourteen

Day 14:

June 28, 2014

Jeff set out for a dentist first thing in the morning to get his broken tooth fixed. His journey was successful and he made it back to the hotel just as the kids and I were heading down for breakfast.

After filling our bellies, we loaded up the car and set out for “The Lake District” of Cumbria County and its picture perfect rolling hills and lakes that were once home to Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth. As the weather was absolutely dreadful (again) and hiking was out of the question, we decided to take the advice of Rick Steves and set out on a “car hiking” route. Rick says, “this hour-long drive which includes Newlands Valley, Buttermere, Honister Pass and Borrowdale gives you the best scenery you’ll find in the North Lake District.” I’m not sure what kind of formula-one race car he was driving, but this loop took us several hours to complete. He was right about the scenery, though. The best way I can describe it is the road to Hana (the whole loop) with two-way traffic (on one lane, of course), in what appears to be several driveways all linked together in a contiguous chain though an enormous free-range sheep farm/hedge maze. It was like a life sized Skinner rat maze with sheep obstacles and a beautiful view.

 

Honister Slate Mine
Honister Slate Mine


Jeff says this entire trip has been like a “two week defensive driving test.” (I’m not sure if he is going to pass.) Although he says, “I’m an excellent driver” (just like Rain Man). At the midway point on our driving tour, we stopped into the Honister Slate Mine which produces its “famous” and “best” Westmorland green slate. We all enjoyed trekking deep into the hillside to see inside this working mine and to hear about the process of slate mining.

IMG_5427At the next “town” over, we stopped into the cafe/ice cream shop for some mid-afternoon tea before we continued on our “hike.” A few miles down the road, we reached Newlands Pass. From the road we could see a waterfall, so we pulled off and walked a few hundred yards to get a closer look. The wind and rain almost blew is off the mountainside, but it was nice to get out for some fresh air and to commune with the sheep. “Mind the poo” became the phase of the day.

To cap off our scenic drive, we diverged a bit and went off the beaten track that even “Tommie” our Sat-Nav couldn’t find… the Castlerigg Stone Circles. Catlerigg is one of the earliest stone circles in Europe. It was constructed by Bronze Age people possibly for use in solstice celebrations. To the casual observer, (read: the Wilson family) it looks like a large sheep pasture with a bunch of big rocks thrown in the middle. Jeff and I walked around the stones and waited for a mystical feeling (that never came) and the kids tried to catch (and pet) the sheep (while “minding the poo”). We finished up the day with a fabulous Italian dinner in Keswick.

Castlerigg Stone Circles
Castlerigg Stone Circles

UK: Day Thirteen

The Wheel of Liverpool
The Wheel of Liverpool

Day 13:

June 27, 2013

After breakfast at the hotel, we wandered over to the nearby Museum of Liverpool. The museum contained various exhibits showcasing the various facets of Liverpool and its history. Liverpool has a rich and interesting history as a shipping port and hub of the slave trade, as well as a hot bed for popular music (think Beatles, Echo & the Bunnymen, OMD, Elvis Costello, Dead or Alive). Jeff watched the movie about the rival football clubs Liverpool and Everton. We all watched the Beatles story movie. The kids enjoyed the many hands-on displays, and at free the price was right.

IMG_5368The weather was dreadful with the downpours dampening my spirit (and my shorts-clad body). We had all run out of clean clothes, so laundry took priority over other more entertaining afternoon activities. If ever I were to have a vacation nervous breakdown, it was beginning to look like this may be the day. (It almost happened in Germany after Jeff kept driving around the “road closed” signs only to discover that there was no longer a road.) The budget chain that we’ve been staying at has no laundry facilities, so we set out in the car to find the “laundrette.” Somehow, we thought we would find a place to eat on the way. After driving around for over an hour through shady neighborhoods full of locked up businesses with no food in sight, I was about to have a major freak out. We finally found a McDonalds (barf) and then made our way to a nearby laundrette. When all was said and done, we had spent two hours and several quid, but we had clean clothes, moderately satisfied bellies and an interesting “cultural” experience under our belts. Breakdown averted. We decided to get out of scary-town and head back for the hotel to unload the laundry and find a more appetizing dinner spot. After ditching the car, we journeyed back into the pedestrian area downtown (several square blocks have been developed into a car-free pedestrian zone) and we happened upon a Jamie Oliver restaurant “Jamie’s Italian” for dinner. I enjoyed it very much.

UK: Day Twelve

Day 12:

June 26, 2013

I guess we’re wearing out because even I slept until 9:45 this morning.

After packing ten suitcases full of things back into our four suitcases, we loaded up the car and set out 80 miles (2 & a half hours) for Liverpool. The weather was beautiful for our arrival at Albert Dock on the Mersey River. Liverpool is of particular interest to me because it was from this waterfront that my great-grandmother Selina Gascoigne set out for America in 1894 (at age 8). We checked into the hotel and set out on foot to explore a bit.

Albert Dock, Liverpool
Albert Dock, Liverpool

Heather and Kai found the downtown shopping district (several hours worth). Jeff and Kiki headed back to the hotel for a little R & R. We all met up for dinner and then back to the room for some coloring (the girls) and wacky comedic British talk/game shows (for the adults).

UK: Day Eleven

DSCN0914Day 11:

June 24, 2013

IMG_5317We had another lie-in today and then walked over to Morrison’s grocery store for some picnic supplies. We walked to the far side of town to the city park and had a picnic lunch and let the girls play on the playground. After lunch, we drove up to Llanberis to take the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the summit of Mt. Snowdon (3,xxx? feet) in Snowdonia National Park. The train took us 5 miles to the summit through rocky fields full of fluffy grazing sheep. The tracks criss-crossed over the hiking trail that was swamped with hikers of all ages out for the day. We were lucky to have a warm-ish sunny day. The views were breath-taking and took in sights as far away as parts of England, Ireland and Scotland. Along the journey, we saw some Blackhawk helicopters from RAF Valley (where Prince William is stationed) running training maneuvers through the rolling hills. After the return train trip, we ventured back to town, had dinner at the hotel and called it a day.DSCN0928