*Editors Note* we are pleased to share this story from Laura Vanderkam
A few years ago, I put “visit the Netherlands during tulip time” on my List of 100 Dreams. I am thrilled to say that I can now cross that off.
We spent the past week in the Netherlands, staying in a farm house about an hour outside of Amsterdam, and exploring the whole country. Traveling with small kids (6,4,2) is always challenging, let alone traveling internationally, but we had a good time. Some memories, day by day:
Sun April 13: We arrived in Amsterdam after the overnight flight from Newark. Some of us slept more than others. My husband slept, which is good, since he was driving (neither “L” — nanny, who came with us — or I can drive stick, which is what the van Hertz had to special order for us was. I allegedly learned, but couldn’t start the car at a busy intersection years ago and was so traumatized from the experience that I haven’t tried since). We flew on my husband’s frequent flier miles — 6 free-ish tickets on Delta! — so I guess all that traveling was good for something. The long list of Disney movies made the flight a lot more bearable than it would have been, as did the 1-to-1 adult-to-kid ratio.
We landed and drove to the Artis Royal Zoo, and took in the elephants, lions, butterflies, etc. The kids were most taken with the playground, playing amidst all the blond children while the adults pounded coffee. We lost intensity halfway through the zoo when the jet-lagged 6-year-old started falling asleep on benches. No one can carry him, so we had to leave. We drove to our lovely house (rented online) out in the country, and after a short nap, headed to Hoge Veluwe national park, where we biked with the 3 kids on the backs of our bikes Dutch style — no helmets. No one wears them there, but it is a flat country built for cycling, and everyone cycles, which means that drivers expect to see bikes flying through every intersection. I’m wagering that the Dutch also aren’t that litigious, given the playgrounds we visited. We ate at a little roadside place that had a playground outside with a zip line. They took credit cards, but the line was broken, and since we were short on euros, my husband wound up driving 5 miles to another tiny little Dutch village to find an ATM. The playground came in handy during that wait!
Mon April 14– The kids slept surprisingly well (only I was up at 4 a.m.) We threw the kids a bone with a visit to Efteling, the Dutch Disneyland. An article in the Wall Street Journal several months ago claimed this was extremely kid friendly and worth a visit. The fairy tale forest of animatronic type scenes was all in Dutch, but the kids still liked looking at Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, etc. We rode several rides, and despite it being horribly cold and intermittently rainy, the kids had a good time, especially the 4-year-old who got to ride a roller coaster. We had trouble finding a restaurant open on Monday night, but eventually stumbled into an empty bar that served us amazing savory pancakes (and Heinekens). Sometimes you get lucky.
Tues April 15 — back to Amsterdam for the day. We went to the Rijksmuseum, splitting into groups of 1 kid per 1 adult, though unfortunately, all 3 kids managed to be pills in their own way. I thought I had lucked out, drawing the 6-year-old, but he got so obsessed with the multimedia touchscreen tour guide that he didn’t want to look at the art and he walked straight into people. I started putting him on the benches in the middle of the rooms while I checked out the Rembrandts. L had the 2-year-old and eventually just took her out, figuring that running around the entrance area beat running through exhibits. My husband reported that the 4-year-old started lying on the floor whenever he stopped carrying him. Good times! We recovered after a late lunch and went to Vondelpark, the Amsterdam version of Central Park (think Central Park with way more obvious pot smoking). The kids played on a playground with another zip line, then we drove home on an alternate route that took us through some bulb fields — beautiful tulip fields where the colors alternate every few rows. The stripes are striking. My husband and I went out for dinner in Harderwijk, a village on the water, enjoying a lovely 4-course dinner with beverage accompaniment for me (he was driving!) It was a walled city with those picturesque tiny roads you see in old cities in Europe. These are not cities built for cars, so it’s always humorous maneuvering a 7-passenger van down the streets.
Wed April 16 — A relatively low-key day at Hoge Veluwe National Park again. We started at the park’s Kroller Muller museum, which — like the Rijksmuseum — offered my children a chance to be at their best. Ha ha! At least no one actually touched the Van Goghs. We wound up not going to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam precisely because we were so traumatized by our museum experiences. We biked around afterwards, ate ice cream by a lake, and played on another Dutch playground. This featured an even bigger zip line! The kids loved it. We went back to Harderwijk en masse for dinner, and ate in an Italian restaurant that served pizza for the kiddos. I eat everything enthusiastically, which makes international travel fine for me. Even if I can’t read the menu, I’m willing to eat whatever it is. My kids don’t seem to feel this way. They ate bread and cheese much of the trip. Pizza was a nice break. We walked along the water, drove home and played on our house’s swingset. After we put the kids to bed, my husband took off for Brussels for a 24-hour trip.
Thurs April 17 — A home day for L and me and kids, as my husband took the car, not that either of us could drive it if he hadn’t. We traded off taking our runs into the local village of Uddel and playing with the kids. I got a few hours of work done. When I couldn’t figure out the Dutch washing machine, I washed our clothes by hand — communing with my Dutch farmwife ancestors, I suppose. The kids liked running around the fields and were alternately good, playing beautifully with each other in the spring sunshine, and awful. There was biting. Ugh. Hubby came home at 11 pm.
Fri April 18 — We traveled north to Houwerzijl, where my grandfather was born. It’s about half an hour outside Groningen, but it is really in the middle of nowhere. We were driving on one-lane roads through the open fields and past windmills to get there. The little village was charming, and the old church is now a nice tea and sandwich shop with a clean (and free) WC. Alas, they did not take our version of credit card, and we were short on cash again, so my husband had to make another 5 mile drive to a neighboring village’s ATM. We explored a little book store, and an old cemetery, where I found a Van Der Kamp, but no Van der Kams (and my mom tells me it wasn’t just a matter of dropping the “p” on American arrival). Oh well. We drove on to Bourtange, a fortified city (and massive tourist trap) near the border, then briefly crossed into Germany to drive — with no speed limit! — part of the way home.
Sat April 19 — It is tulip time in Holland, and we drove to Keukenhof, the big flower show. It was crowded but dazzling, with thousands of tulips blooming amid azaleas, cherry trees, daffodils, lilacs, etc. We went crazy with the camera, taking our Christmas card photos, then we went into Amsterdam to a place that supposedly had awesome mussels. Upon arriving, we were told that it was not mussel season, so no one was serving them. We had cheese fondue instead, and walked around old Amsterdam, then drove home and had a picnic dinner in our lovely yard before packing up and getting ready to leave on…
Sun April 20 — iIt’s a long haul back to the US, but the 1-to-1 adult-to-kid ratio helped, and so did the movies. I know the parts of the trip my kids liked the best — the amusement parks, the playgrounds, etc. — could obviously have been done at home, too. But I’m not willing to put off traveling until they’re older, and there were enough good parts to make up for the challenges. I saw lovely Van Goghs and Rembrandts, I biked through a gorgeous forest, I saw where my grandfather is from, I enjoyed the tulips. I’m happy to have crossed this one off the bucket list.
Laura Vanderkam is a nationally recognized writer, journalist and author who questions the status quo and helps her readers rediscover their true passions and beliefs in pursuit of more meaningful lives.READ MORE »