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).

Day Eleven: New Hampshire & Vermont


This morning, after having a continental breakfast in the hotel, we loaded up the car (how are we going to get all of this stuff home!?) and set out for our longest driving day, so far.

The plan was to follow the Kancamagus Highway across the White Mountain National Forest in northern New Hampshire. However, Google Maps did not like that idea and kept re-routing us on the shortest most expedient route. I caught it a few times and I changed our course to a route that mostly went the way I had intended. All in all, it only took about three and a half hours to venture across the stem of Maine and the entire width of New Hampshire. (New Hampshire is 168 miles long and 90 miles wide at the widest point.)

Sugar house evaporating table

After crossing over into Vermont (which actually means “green mountain” in French), we stopped for lunch in St. Johnsbury followed by a quick run through the roadside “Sugar House Museum” and gift shop. Due to the season, the syrup evaporator was not running, but the sugar house did smell heavenly in a (breakfast sort of way). We loaded up on maple candies from the sample trays and set off to finish our days’ journey. Just an hour later, we had arrived in the capital city of Montpelier, our home for the night.

Jeff and “Lady Bear”

After checking into the hotel to rest for a bit, we decided to head out to see a few sights before dark.

East Montpelier is home to Bragg Farm and Sugar House. Again, because it is summer the sugar house was not in operation. We did watch a short video that explained the syruping process from collecting the sap, to the evaporation process and finally the bottling. There was a nice lady that answered all of our questions and explained the four different grades (light to dark) of maple syrup. We even got to sample all of the different grades. There are very strict rules regarding the production of pure maple syrup and maple syrup products and Vermonters are very proud of their maple products. It was an interesting experience. We came away with plenty of treats from the gift shop, as well.

“Cowmobile”

Next we drove 30 minutes over to the town of Waterbury, the home of the main Ben & Jerry’s factory. We made it in time to catch one of the last factory tours of the evening.
 First, we learned about the founding of Ben & Jerry’s in Burlington, VT in 1978. Next, we got to see the production line produce hundreds of pints of Chunky Monkey ice cream. Last, we got to go to the flavor test kitchen where we got to sample a new flavor Salted Carmel Blondie – delicious!

 We couldn’t leave without a visit to the gift shop and, of course, ice cream for dinner from the scoop shop.

Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard

After polishing off our ice cream, we took a short walk past the factory to the “flavor graveyard” where they have gravestones paying homage to defunct flavors.

Tomorrow: More Vermont and then on to Canada!

Day Ten: Portland, Maine

 

Blueberry Pancakes

This morning we had breakfast at the iconic Becky’s Diner, once featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (although we didn’t know that
when we made plans to go there).

Peaks Island Ferry

After breakfast, we had just enough time to walk to the other end of town to catch a ferry to Peaks Island, an inhabited island just three miles from downtown Portland. It is one of the dozen or so “large” islands and several dozen “small” islands in Casco Bay. It is accessible by a 15 minute ferryride.  Although there are about 850 year round residents, the population more than doubles in the summer with vacationers.

 It is possible to walk the perimeter if the island to take in the beautiful views of the Casco Bay and the distant islands and lighthouse. But where’s the fun in that? Instead, we rented one of the many golf carts that can be seen crisscrossing the island.

We were able to visit all of the “top spots” recommended by the golf cart guy, including:

 

Jeff playong Cairn Jenga

 

a beach filled with cairns (piled up rock sculptures) and views of three different lighthouses,

 a trail through a swamp to a beaver pond/dam,

 a scenic road along the bay and a sandy beach dotted with sea glass (though not as fantastic as we can find at home) and mussel shells.

 

Building a cairn

 

Cairn Beach

Kiki LOVED riding around in the cart so much that I suggested that she take up golfing so that she can ride in a golf cart on a regular basis. When our time ran out, we extended another hour.  After turning in the cart, we had just enough time to use the restroom, fill up on (more) ice cream and then get back on the ferry (with 200 other people) back to downtown Portland. It was an interesting little place that reminded me very much of the little islands that I have visited near home (Blake, Lopez, Orcas, Vashon). Thanks for the recommendation, Vaughn Family.
When we got back to Portland, Jeff went back to the hotel to give he girls some pool time, while I set out to do some window shopping (alone time).

We reunited again for dinner in the hotel restaurant.

 

We found some whoopie pies!

 

Chocolate for Kiki

 

Chocolate Chip for Kai

After dinner, the girls and I decided that we needed to get ahold of one of the famous “whoopie pies” that we had heard were a “Maine treat.” The front desk suggested a take-out Italian restaurant for us to try just a few blocks from the hotel. Sweet success! We scored two traditional (chocolate cake with cream filling) and a chocolate chip whoopie pie for Kai.

We could sleep easy now for tomorrow we were off to New Hampshire and Vermont.

 Goodbye sweet salty ocean air. 😢