Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Kids Have Their Say

KARINA


I like Amsterdam because Amsterdam is fun. It has TunFun and Nemo. I love the church bells. I like that I can see them at the Westerkerk. I also like the organ at the Nieuwekerk.


I really like all the canals and how I see them moving.


I like to wave at the boats and say "Hallo." Sometimes the kids at parks speak English, but most of the time they don't. I love all the parks here. There are more here than in Washington. It's really fun - I can't leave yet.






They have lots of different kinds of candy.




SULLIVAN


Amsterdam is in the Netherlands and the Jewish Historical Museum is in Amsterdam. I like Max the Matzo. Here is his picture.

I also like the Rijksmuseum - it has lots of pictures and one boat. I love the anteaters at the Royal Amsterdam Zoo. I don't have any toys. I have books and paper. And no Wii.



ETHAN


I've had a lot of fun at Amsterdam. I also like the church bells. Here's some video of the Westerkerk, and the bells. The bells played Twist and Shout!



There are lots of interesting things to see near our neighborhood. Today we found this petting zoo. They had a family of goats. This approximately 10-year-old kid still does not know how to eat properly yet. They also have a couple of pigs.



I'm keeping a journal of all the things that have been happening. I may not finish it ever - there is too much! The World Cup was very exciting. Holland played very well. They almost won - they were the second best team.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I AMSTERDAM

Since the kids and I are unburdened by school, employment, regular life responsibilities or other distrations (sorry Tim!) we have the ultimate luxury of seeing every attraction and interesting event that Amsterdam has to offer - as long as we can get there by walking or tram car. This week we amused ourself in a variety of ways. We went swimming twice, ate lots of ice cream, played basketball and soccer at a park, and found a new candy store.

Here we are posing in the large M of the "I AMSTERDAM" sign at Museumplein.


In my quest to visit every museum in Amsterdam, I dragged the kids to the Diamond Museum. Back in the day, Amsterdam was the center of diamond trading and diamond cutting. It was not exactly a hard-hitting scholarly museum - no mention of blood diamonds or controversy, but one whole room devoted to film clips of movies where diamonds are stolen (unedited I might add. Evidently stealing diamonds necessitates constant use of the f word). Also there were a lot of fake crowns and tiaras. Then somehow the museum led you into a "factory" where there were people in cages polishing and cutting diamonds, and then into - you guessed it - shops where you could buy diamond jewelry. We somehow resisted the earrings for 17,000 Euro.
Oddly, the kids loved it, and I may have unwittingly awakened Karina's quest for diamonds.


Right outside the museum was this large wooden shoe - which should have been an early indication of "tourist trap."


Here's another cultural difference - the Dutch don't seem to mind letting their kids run around naked in parks where there are water features. Don't believe me? My kids are the fully clothed Americans in the pond at Vondelpark.



Near Vondelpark we discovered a real life riding stable in the middle of the city. It was gorgeous.


In addition to her diamond obsession, Karina is now fixated on riding a horse. Luckily we found this one later to temporarily appease her.


This week also brought us face to face with a portion of the Red Light District, which we have successfully avoided up to this point. As Tim explained when I told him the story (which you think he might have mentioned earlier) there is THE Red light district, and then there are a few mini-versions as well. Walking home yesterday, I decided to cut across a few side streets to get back to our own neighborhood, and was suddenly surrounded by literal red lights and windows with people in them. Yikes! Within a few blocks we were back in pretty canal land. I made the kids run - and told them I would explain why in a few years. Ethan had his own explanation - "I think we should have known we were near the red light district because we were on that street with McDonalds and Burger King."
And no, there are no pictures. Sorry.
But here's a pic of the Amsterdam that I love.


Tim's mom comes tomorrow - can't wait to show her some of the places we have discovered.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Det er et yndigt land...

Ever since serving a mission for my church there from 1992-1994, I have been telling everyone who will listen (and some who won't) how awesome Denmark is. Kirse and the kids have endured a veritable cornucopia of stories about how the food, the language, the church and the people are just redonkulously wonderful. Fortunately for all of us, I have kept fairly regular contact with the family of Anne-Marie and John Bank Grabe who as I reveal below, are now some of our new best friends.

Here's how we got there: Even on the autobahn I couldn't get the red needle on the speedometer to go much further than 140. By the way, if you happen to be driving a rental from Amsterdam to Denmark, ALL German roads are currently under construction.


We started our adventures in the old Danish viking town of Ribe. When I say old, I'm talking eighth century. Is this old enough for you? Huh?


The cathedral in the background was amazing - and we climbed to the top of the tower (the newest part of the building, added in the 1400s.



That's a big door...


And a huge bell (Karina loves the bells)...


And a beautiful hall...


We had to get out some Kroner - which do a good job of highlighting the fact that Danish designers rule, but after almost adjusting to Euros, we had to comprehend a completely different currency with a much different exchange rate (I think it's 5-6 Kroner to the dollar).



We arrived in the rapidly-ascendant city of Esberg to the cozy confines of the Grabes, who, along with the afore-mentioned John and Anne-Marie, have two amazingly good boys: Christoffer (emphasis on the 'OFFer') and Benjamin ('j' pronounced like a 'y').


The Grabes were the penultimate hosts - helping all of our far-flung Danish dreams come true. They fulfilled all of my culinary dreams, the first of which was Viennerbrød (pastry).


Another thing I've been telling Kirse about (and dreaming of) for years are the Danish hot-dogs. They have an astounding variety of ingredients that elevate a simple cart-food to high cuisine.


As anyone who'se spent any time at all in Denmark knows, the Zenith of all Danish culinary tradition is the mighty Flœskesteg (amazing brolied-pork from heaven). Once again, I've told Kirse about this about a thousand times. The Grabes prepared for us a wonderful flœskesteg dinner, despite the fact that it is just like making a Thanksgiving dinner in the heat of July (the meat has to cook for 2 and a half hours). Så lœkkert!


The meal includes red cabbage, delicious boiled potatoes, scrumptious Danish brown-potatoes (served caramelized in sugar) and of course, gravy...


One of Kirse's dreams was to look at all the different stuff in Danish supermarkets:





These sound tasty:


On top of our culinary and shopping dreams - we also thought it might be fun to go to the beach. We seemed to time it absolutely prefectly - the clouds literally parted so that we could enjoy splashing along Jutland's western coast. Christoffer went out and waded around with the kids, while Benjamin wrote everyone's name in the sand.





Lastly, we were able to attend church meetings in Esbjerg. It was so great to see so many faces I had not seen in 15 years. When something is talked about so many times - it's almost impossible for it to live up to expectations. Thanks to our friends, I feel like this trip exceeded everyone's expectations.


Our hope is that the Grabes can find a way to come hang-out with us in the Pacific Northwest. It really was the perfect weekend - you can see how the kids felt about having to leave the Grabe's and Denmark:


A big TUSIND TAK to the Grabes! Esbjerg er et yndigt land!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Almost Won the World Cup Edition

So as those who care know, the Netherlands did not win the World Cup on Sunday. We had been fans for nearly a month, so you can imagine our devastation. We had even decorated our apartment. Note the banners....

The next day, Monday, all of the Netherlands cried, and the whole day was torrential rain. Seemed appropriate.
Tim got stuck in the rain on his bike commute home.


Also Karina got a phantom sickness, so we stayed in the apartment. Luckily this is our first real bout with sickness since the adventure began. Here is Sullivan drowning his sorrows and boredom in ice cream.


On Tuesday, despite the loss, Amsterdam was the center of the party to celebrate the second place finish, complete with a canal parade that we tried in vain to get a real glimpse of. But we did enjoy the orange ambience, and all the trams in the city were free to ride.







Thursday was fun friend day - we got to hang out with the family of one of Tim's co-workers. Fabulous Portlanders - although you can tell my kids didn't really like them :) Here we are at another one of these cool "hofs" built between 1650-1720- houses built around courtyards or gardens that were set aside for widows, orphans, and other disadvantaged people, and are now apartments for the most part.


On Thursday we also had a quick visit from Ethan's friend Jack from Brussels, who accompanied his Dad on a work train trip to Amsterdam. The whole Hawk family is moving back to the United States on Monday, so it was nice to get one last glimpse of part of the family.



And yes, this is us enjoying ice cream, and also enjoying the Niewe Kerk (New Church). We can't get enough of either.




Tomorrow morning we are off for a quick weekend trip to Esberg, Denmark - a place that Tim has been telling me about for 15 years. I am very excited to finally enjoy some pastries and some Danishness. It's a 7 hour drive, and our first rental car experience, and we are not quite sure how to get out of Amsterdam. But here goes nothing....

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Wilds of Amsterdam


We finally visited the Artis Royal Amsterdam Zoo on Saturday, despite the scorching temperatures (Artis, short for Natura Artis Magistra (Latin for "Nature is the teacher of art").
You can only pass a zoo so many times (our tram to church goes right by it) before the kids put their foot down. Our only hesitation was the cost - over $100 for just one visit. But it was a lovely zoo, even though most of the signage was in Dutch and the animals didn't speak English either. Some of the animals were easy cognates - others took some complicated guessing.


The zoo was founded in 1838. Part of this cool building below used to house zebras. Unfortunately the exhibit about the history of the zoo was completely in Dutch.


Every other person in the Netherlands was at the beach, so we had lots of time to ourselves until later in the day. Baby giraffe!


Not sure this would fly at a US zoo - this was Lemur Land. That lemur is just about to pounce and claw Karina's eyes out.



Did I mention it was hot? The penguins look hot.

The highlight for Sullivan was seeing a real live anteater - his favorite animal for several years for some unknown reason. And that anteater had recently had a baby - and apparently this is what baby anteaters like to do...



We splurged and bought some poffertjes - sort of small Dutch puffed pancakes, mostly because this little shop was just so darn quaint. I need to find a pan to make these after I come home to add to my collection of northern European breakfast cookware.


The kids enjoyed them, despite the heat.


Artis, like most zoos, seems to add dinosaurs randomly to its attractions, which I don't consider a real animal exhibit - but fun to climb on.


The zoo also had a small aquarium, which was housed in a fun 19th century building. Lots of fun fish.




Earlier in the week someone at a park clued us in to a nearby Kinderboerdjerij, a petting zoo.
It's so nice to run into moms and nannies that tell us about places to go that we wouldn't find ourselves. We had fun, despite the longer walk than anticipated and the fact that the place was run by the gruffest Dutch person I've ever met.

We saw this along the way - there are so many urban birds that live in Amsterdam - ducks, pigeons, geese, herons, swans - probably because of all the water.



At the farm they let kids walk right onto the field and mingle amongst the goats and sheep. It only made me slightly nervous. As you can see from the picture, Ethan is gradually entering older kid land, and wasn't as fascinated by the farm animals as his siblings.



Sullivan and Karina couldn't get enough.





In just a few short hours the World Cup final will begin - Netherlands vs. Spain. And a different wildness will take over the city! When we were coming back from church, we passed thousands and thousands of people streaming into the city decked out in orange and ready for a party. Stay tuned!