Saturday, June 26, 2010

Amsterdam in Depth

One of the great luxurious things about staying in Amsterdam for an extended period, rather than a quick vacation trip, is that we are really getting to know the city and its attractions. We've moved beyond the traveler's Top Ten and started exploring lesser known places. We have what's called a "museumkaart" that we paid a flat fee for and it gets us into most museums in all the Netherlands. Of course, some of the museums are of more interest to me than the kids, but they mostly enjoy them.
Here we are at a canal house mansion museum - and had an interesting discussion about how rich people live. Karina - "So they have lots of rooms for just hanging out, and they don't grow anything in their gardens?"

Another random museum - The Houseboat Museum, which some brilliant person designed for gullible tourists to see the inside of a houseboat on the canal. It looks just like someone's house, except you are on a boat, and you have to watch out or you'll hit your head.

They did have a coloring corner, so it wasn't a total loss.

We went again to the Niewe Kerk (New Church) for a free organ recital - it was fun to watch the organ doors open...

and even more amazing to hear it play.

Tim was able to take a few mornings off this week (and then working until 10 pm) to see some of the sights with us. We did visit the science museum NEMO that the kids enjoyed. We stayed there all day because it cost nearly $100 for a one-time visit! Interestingly for a children's science museum, but strangely in keeping with the Amsterdam vibe, they had a section called "Teen Facts" which went into more detail then one would think appropriate (this is a family blog, so you'll have to fill in the blanks). I kept steering the kids around those particular interactive displays.

Next to NEMO they had a replica of the 1700s trading ship Amsterdam that was fun to explore.

Yesterday we finally made it the The Anne Frank House, which is actually Amsterdam's #1 tourist attraction. They don't allow photos inside. Both Tim and I had the same reaction to the house - we both teared up at the tragedy and incomprehensibility of it all. To walk through the secret bookcase and see the pencil marks on the wall marking Anne and her sister Margot's height growth and the actual pictures of movie stars Anne put on the wall - made it all too real and heartbreaking. It was sobering to hear the bells from the nearby Westerkirk and know that she heard those same bells for the two years she was in hiding. One of the pamphlets had this quote from Holocaust survivor Primo Levi - "One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live."

After the Anne Frank house, the older kids climbed the Westerkirk bell tower (something Karina has wanted to do for weeks) along with Tim. Sullivan couldn't go because he is too young, and I couldn't go because I'm afraid of heights.

Tomorrow we are hitching along on a work trip to London. Sullivan is very excited to be somewhere where they speak English and to explore new parks! The Princess Diana Memorial Playground is on the docket. Stay tuned!

Food, Glorious Food

Part of enjoying the culture is enjoying the food - it might be my imagination but everything tastes a little better here - even the normal food items. Tim's theory is that because of European Union laws, they are required to put less crappy filler in their foods. Here's just regular syrup and powdered sugar that are to die for.

I bought this in Belgium for possible taking home presents, but I don't think it's going to last that long. Belgian chocolate is truly something else.

Here's a lovely plate of meat and cheeses made by Roz in Brussels - she had some fancy French word for it - Charcuterie. I told her to watch her language. I try to eat a new kind of cheese every day and haven't run out of cheeses to try yet.

Ice cream is another almost daily treat - probably overdoing it a bit. They have so many different kinds of ice cream. Here's one from Brussels. Not sure what made it Australian - it had a type of cooked flavor that was so rich!

Here's our Moroccan meal in Brussels where we celebrated our 13th anniversary - how fun is that sentence to type! It was the first time I liked cous-cous.

I've heard all my life about Belgian waffles - they are served warm and somehow have carmelized sugar on the inside AND outside. A real healthy treat.

The national cookie in Brussels is the speculoos - a type of sweet biscuit. They eat them as cookies, but also make them into other foods - like ice cream and a sweet spread that is yummy.

The vast majority of snack options as you may have noted are not healthy. But we're doing so much walking it's okay, right? Here's one healthy thing we tried last night - white asparagus.

And it was pretty tasty. But not as tasty as ice cream.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Brussels, Bruges, Beautiful Belgium

As luck would have it, one of our best family friends live in Brussels, and will only live there for a few more weeks before they move back to Boston where we met. And serendipitously, we are a quick train ride away, and live right near Central Station in Amsterdam. Good clean living I say!

Brussels is officially bilingual - Dutch and French, so everything has signs in both languages, including the train station. People speak English as well, and in parts of Belgium they speak German too. Pick a language and go with it, people!

Ethan and his friend Jack Hawk used to hang out every single day as babies, and it was nice to see them together again. Here they are on the playground of The International School of Brussels which Jack and his brother Asher attend. Karina and Ethan attended a day of school, and got to participate in the end of year barbecue. Very posh!

The other days while the older kids were in school my friend Roz Hawk (who I also used to hang out with everyday) was kind enough to show us around the amazing sights of Brussels and the region. It seems like every bit of important history happened in Belgium.

For example Waterloo (Napoleon's, not the ABBA song) which was gearing up for a 195th anniversary re-enactment that weekend. We climbed to the top of the lion monument, but my fear of heights made it difficult to take pictures from the top.

Here the kids are enjoying climbing on a cannon, just like they did during the real battle!

And of course, who doesn't have the ruins of 12th century abbey nearby? Talk about incredible - and oddly child friendly. The kids loved climbing over the rocks and onto the remains of pillars and taking secret passageways all around.

Sullivan did have a nasty fall- check out the knee (ironically before we even entered the abbey). These are some kids in desperate need of some bread and cheese.

And how about a castle that started as a medieval fortress? Karina has been fascinated by the idea that there are real palaces and castles outside the Disney universe.

Tim joined us Friday night in Belgium. And just in case we hadn't had enough amazingness, the Hawks and Mays went to Bruges on Saturday. Only two negatives - Sullivan spiked a bizarre fever that had him down and out, and the weather was quite cold for which we were unprepared (although we had been warned). But we soldiered on - because look how cool it is!!

This church in Bruges had one of the few Michelangelo statues outside Italy. Enjoy.

Our last day, while the Hawks were being righteous, we took the tram down to the center of Brussels. This place is called the "Grand Place." For obvious reasons.

Karina in front of the royal palace - after church bells her favorite thing about being in Europe.

And I haven't even mentioned the awesome chocolate, Greek food, Moroccan food, cheese, copious amounts of yogurt, bread, more chocolate - and perhaps the ultimate - the Belgian waffle. If one can visit good friends in Brussels, I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Parks, Birds, Treats and the WORLD CUP!!

Now that we have been here nearly three weeks, we are getting around the city quite well and the kids and I are finding "our" favorite places. The kids favorites are parks (which begs the question - is Europe being wasted on the children? We have parks in our town after all.) These parks continue to boggle the mind with their death-defying and seemingly age inappropriate play structures. Here's one we found today in Vondelpark - some kind of climbing contraption to a very high slide connected by a treacherous spidered metal tube..

Here's another winner from the park next to the Van Gogh museum

For such an urban area, there are lots of beautiful birds -

And here is our favorite ice cream place

And today was the first World Cup game between the Netherlands and Denmark. The town is bedecked in Orange, as are the people, in support of their team. Karina got into the action too, and we found the game on our semi-working TV. It seemed like a cultural thing to do.

Tomorrow we are off to Belgium, because it's Tuesday. One of our best friends from Boston lives there, and Tim will join us on Friday.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Haarlem Globetrotters

Our saturday rage in Harrlem (about a 20 minute train ride from Amsterdam) was flippin' sweet!

Before I get into the thick of the media detailing our day, let me make this one observation: Our kids are getting pretty good at dealing with being dragged from museum to museum as we rage around this amazing country. We bribe them (with ice cream, mainly) to keep them motivated. In addition, we provide liquid refreshment - I think they look like baby birds here:

Haarlem (not this one) rates an amazing 97.376 on esteemed European Archeologist Samantha Pleinbourne's standardized quaintness scale. It feels like nothing has changed since 1620, and this is because very little has.

Haarlem (took this pic today):

Haarlem approximately 500 years ago (no red truck):

We went from the unchanged except for red truck market to the Teylers Museum which is the oldest museum in Haarlem (1780-something-ish). It has this marvelous "chamber of curiosities" vibe with rooms for dinosaur bones, geology, paintings (with some original Rembrandt & Michelangelo drawings), the world's largest electrostatic generator (seems like it came right out of The City for Lost Children), old coins, and a room filled with the animals that the Netherlands would have been populated with a million or so years ago when this area had a tropical climate.

Kirse has been on a churchgoing binge lately. We've hit almost every major church in Amsterdam (many of which are now churches in name only). In Haarlem's Grote Kerk, we have found the Bling-Daddy Mack Dawgg - at least of the ones we've seen so far. Mozart made a special trip to kick his 10 yr old skillz on the hooked-up, world-class pipe organ.

We strolled into this quartet playing - which seemed pretty appropriate:

The place is ginormous, and, despite being mad huge and old, it's incredibly bright inside. Not sure what I was passionately whispering to Karina about.

After the Kerk, we got some Dutch fries with Mayo on 'em (they flippin coat 'em with that stuff). Unfortunately I wasn't able to articulate to the Vlaamse Frites people that Karina didn't want anything but salt on hers. They flippin' coated em with that stuff. She took it with the kind of grace and cheery lack of concern you might expect (notice the little fry-fork in her hand):

After the fry fail, we went to the Frans Hals museum, which was probably my favorite part of the excursion. Hals and Sargeant are neck-and-neck in my book for all-time best portrait painters. It takes a certain kind of awesomeness to paint a portrait of someone I don't know, and do it so well that I can see them as a person, and care about them.

Haarlem's canals are old and cool, but they're not quite as spectaculacious as Amsterdam's. Why, just just this evening after getting home, we saw some swans hanging out on our canal, grips of sweet boats going by, we even saw a fight break out on the other side of Brouwersgracht!

We did take a canal cruise in Haarlem.
Sullvan loved it:

The dark-blue windows on this building made it stand out - and shortly after taking the picture Karina was almost run-over by a bike.

And to close this post, I present the oldest train station in the Netherlands (1234 AD):