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 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).