Thursday, April 7, 2016

Amsterdam, Seven Million Tulips and the Dutch Seaside

After our fun trips to Dublin and Edinburgh during the first week of the kids' spring break, we rested at home for a bit, then hopped in the car and drove four hours to Holland during the second week they were off school.

Along the way, we drove through Bastogne, Belguim, explaining the Battle of the Bulge as we looked out our window. It's so close to the Luxembourg border that we'll make that a special day trip soon. 

We got right to it. Our apartment was fun for the kids -- the top level of the house was one giant room filled with beds and a hammock! Though we were around the corner from the main Red Light District area, our street was charming with knitting shops and bakeries. We got settled, and then walked to the busy central station area, passing over the picturesque canals and bridges, minding the sea of bike-riders, trams, crowds and cars. Did I mention it was busy? To get a macro-view of the city, we started with a canal tour, seeing several sights along the way, including the Anne Frank house.
Our street from the window
Miss Madeline loves to knit, so she was in heaven!
The guide books say to eat frites with curry sauce!
The next morning, we woke up before the rest of Amsterdam and pedaled its quiet streets through the gorgeous VondelPark and over canal bridges with our awesome Dutch guide, Jasper, at The tour was meant to be two hours, but we were having so much fun that we rode for three. John and Bitsy were in a Cabby box bike. It felt like such an authentic experience -- riding bikes in Amsterdam -- and it was the highlight of our city adventures.
We pedaled right thorugh the Rijksmuseum
Bike parts in an alley
That afternoon we had planned to go to the van Gogh Museum and possibly the Rijksmuseum too (Van Gogh's Sunflowers is back!), but when we saw the lines from our bicycle seats, we changed course and relaxed at home. But first, we let each of the kids pick out their own wooden clogs, just like I had when I was a kid! I went out to the flea market and Rob took John to look for the canal boat we saw on our tour that dredges up all the bikes that land at the bottom....15,000 a year! 
The three x's are St. Andrew crosses, a symbol of Amsterdam
At last, the day I had been waiting for finally arrived. We drove to Lisse's Keukenhof, "the most beautiful spring garden in the world," with seven million tulips, hyacinths and daffodils. It was breathtaking. I felt absolutely giddy as we drove through the flower fields and finally pulled into the grounds that I vividly remember as a child. Vintage food trucks served lunch on the grassy lawn, while a DJ mixed tunes from a yellow, retrofitted VW van, all with a windmill gently spinning in the background. Incredible.
The kids took at least 50 of pictures of flowers with our iPhones!
This DJ spun on the roof of his retrofitted van.
Tourists were taking pictures of Bitsy in these clogs!
We were only 25 minutes from the Dutch coast, and the drive was gorgeous… colorful striped flower fields, hundreds of sheep and spring lambs, and stately thatched-roof mansions. Twenty minutes later we were in Zandvoort, an especially charming seaside town. We played on the beach and had an italian dinner before heading back to Amsterdam for the night.
Hyacinth fields
We stopped in an arcade while we waited for dinner!
On our last day in Amsterdam, we found a perfect spot for Dutch pancakes, which are like oversize crepes with fabulous toppings (mine had bananas, jalapenos and bacon). Then we hit the road for Luxembourg, driving home through the Dutch country side. We loved the goats milling on steep hills along on the highway's edge, but our favorite was passing by the Kinderdijk windmills -- a grouping of 19 that are like an outdoor museum. We couldn't stop because Bitsy was sleeping, but as soon as she woke up, we pulled over on our country road and walked along a stream to a beautiful windmill. Apparently most of Holland is seven meters under sea level; many of the windmills protect against flooding.
There was so much of our trip to Holland we absolutely loved -- our bike tour, the canals, the signature architecture, the pancakes and frites with curry sauce! And we loved heading out into the Dutch countryside to see Keukenhof and Zandzoort!! 

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