A Travellerspoint blog

Amsterdam

Where bikes stop for no one

semi-overcast 15 °C
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Dear friends,

For some, thoughts of Amsterdam conjure up images of a carefree life and lots of lots of bicycles. The cute little "bbbrrriiiinnnnggg" of the bicycle bell seems charming and serene and, dare I say, as the sound of hopefulness to those who are worried about global warming. Yet, actually being here . . . . I must admit that I am starting to loathe the bicycle. Cyclists stop for no one — NO ONE! And, there are so very many of them. The train station in Amsterdam has a three-story bicycle garage! The photo does not do it justice, but it will give some idea of the size of the thing:

BikeGarage.jpg

Plus, there's plenty of bike parking outside too. But, around town they stop for no one, except to chat with friends. So, it is with some trepidation that we explore. Crossing streets means checking the bike path first, then the bus and/or tram line, and then the car lane. It's rather complicated!! And, the intersections with the "LGM" (little green man), who signals that it's okay for pedestrians to cross, aren't much help as the "LGM" often lasts about long enough for us to get only half-way across and we are walking at a pretty good clip!

Anyway, we were off to Amsterdam yesterday. After trying to figure out the transit system (the system itself is not so difficult, but the ticketing seems overly complicated), we wandered about some. We found the main square, after walking through a pretty tacky part of town. Then, we took a tram to the Van Gogh museum.

At_Van_Gogh_Museum.jpg

The museum is really very, very nice. The kids are big fans of Van Gogh and the museum was a great place to learn more about him. In mid-September, we found that we could walk right in, but there was still a pretty good crowd inside. After the museum, we grabbed some lunch at an outdoor cafe (the drizzle had stopped), where our dining companions were a large group of aggressive pigeons. Ah, the city life!

After lunch, the kids played in a park and then it was off to the Rijksmuseum. Here's Margaret in front of the giant I amsterdam slogan/statue across the street from the Rijksmuseum:

Iamsterdam.jpg

And here's john playing on the climber in that park:

John_Climbing.jpg

Most of the museum is under renovation, so some highlights have been crammed into a small area in one section of the museum. The museum did feature a very good kid activity, which helped Margaret and John learn a little about Amsterdam and the Netherlands, and about famous Dutch painters (Rembrandt, Vermeer, etc.).

Both kids really liked the display of the elaborate doll houses at the Rijksmuseum. They learned that the doll houses were not for children. They were put together by wealthy ladies to show off to their friends.

At the Van Gogh museum, John learned that the crow painting that everyone says is Van Gogh's last painting may not actually be Van Gogh's last painting. No one really knows which one was his last painting.

During our wanderings, I read in our guidebook that the central church in Haarlem hosts free Tuesday evening organ concerts. So, we headed back to Haarlem. We found a grocery store and stocked up on a couple of nights of dinners (we are very proud of ourselves that we managed to negotiate the Dutch on the food labels). Then, we went by the church. The concert listings showed every Tuesday, except the 23rd of September! But, before we fell into despair, we found a separate listing and discovered that the Tuesday night concert for last night was a special one (with Thomas Trotter, organist at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey) held at the local music hall. Still, free!

On the subject of "free," let me offer the comment here that Amsterdam is very expensive. Everybody and everything is looking to separate us from our money! Except for parks (and I wonder if the Dutch have considered finding some way to charge for them too!), everything has an entry fee — and often a pretty hefty fee. Even at the rail station, if you have a question, they charge a fee! And, at the Rijksmuseum, which is showing only "highlights," they are still charging the normal 10 euros per adult admission fee (thankfully, the kids go in free, although the kids activity was not free) So, it was a real treat to go find a free concert. London is expensive too, but there is a nice mixture of sights that charge a fee and sights that ask for a suggested donation.

After dinner, we went over to the music hall where we were given tickets. We had good seats to this lovely concert. One of the best aspects of the concert was that they had set up a camera/projector system so that the audience could watch the organist at work — hands and feet! Very cool.

Then, it was off to bed. We will likely go back into Amsterdam today. The weather should be a bit better today. We'll try to post photos tonight or tomorrow (because of the on and off drizzle yesterday, we didn't get many).

But, before I sign off, the kids have asked that the "Rules" of our adventures be posted:

1. Paws off! (Keep your hands, and all other appendages, to yourself.)
2. Stay on the BUS (Butt Upon Seat)
3. No swatting Dad on the butt
4. No turning off the lights in the bathroom when someone else is in there.
5. Don't be an insufferable know-it-all.
6. Don't be a mindless buffoon.
7. No snarky insolence.
8. No calling Daddy unflattering names.

Please note: rules only get made after they have proved necessary (Note that there are no rules about calling Mom unflattering names or hitting her). In public, we can refer to these only by number.

The church bells are chiming, so it's time to move this adventure along!

Cheers,
Susan

Posted by jrreisert 23:24 Archived in Netherlands Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

We're in the Netherlands!

Although all roads (train tracks) seem to lead to Mechelen.

overcast 15 °C
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Hello all,

We arrived in Haarlem, not far from Amsterdam, last night, after leaving Mechelen early in the afternoon (we went on a nice tour of Mechelen in the morning). As we left Mechelin, Lydia kept asking if Margaret could stay a little longer. And, she almost got her wish. What was supposed to be a two and a half hour journey to Haarlem turned into a remarkable odyssey. I won't go into all of the ridiculous details here, but the train that we boarded in Mechelen on its way to Amsterdam (stopping in Rotterdam, where we were going to switch trains to go to Haarlem without having to go through Amsterdam) stopped in Antwerp, deposited passengers (except us), and then went back to Mechelen. We have no idea what we did wrong. We had reviewed the board. Karen had helped us figure out what we were doing and what we should be looking for. Yet, we still ended up back in Mechelen. So, we went back to Antwerp, where we had to wait around a bit before our connection to Rotterdam arrived. So we passed the time by eating:

SnackingInAntwerp.jpg

Like so many of the train stations we've visited on our trip so far, the Antwerp Central station is a gorgeous old (late nineteenth-century) edifice in the midst of a spectacular renovation. It is full of air and light and beauty (at least the parts not still under construction, as in the picture of the kids, above). Here's a shot from the ground level concourse of the modern part of the station showing Joseph on the balcony level, with some of the old structure behind him):

Dad_in_the..Central.jpg

After not quite an hour in Antwerp, we boarded another train going through Rotterdam. And then, in Rotterdam -- and this is where we really went wrong probably -- ended up on some local train stopping at almost every station between Rotterdam and Haarlem. The theory was that this would be faster than staying on the Intercity train to Amsterdam and backtracking on a slow train to Haarlem. The problem with the theory was that the slow train was indeed, very slow. (Lest anyone accuse us of uncritically celebrating European infrastructure, let it be noted that the Rotterdam train station was a pit, comparable to New York's Penn Station at its 1980's worst.)

We arrived in Haarlem sometime around 6:30. Our two and a half hour journey turned into about five hours. Oh, well. We still managed to find our hotel (one-room with a tiny kitchenette) and a food store and we explored our sleepy little town. We are very close to the central square and the big church in the center of town. The church bells chimed at 7:00 this morning. Time to get up and get ready for a big day of exploring!

From what we can tell, this may be our first day in a long time that will feature some amount of rain. We have been remarkably fortunate in the weather department, so we really can't complain.

Our plan is to head to Amsterdam and try to explore a museum or two. Either today or tomorrow, we will visit the Anne Frank House.

Not sure when we will post more photos. We will try in the next couple of days.

Hope all is well.

Cheers,
Susan

Posted by jrreisert 23:30 Archived in Netherlands Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Photos of Belgium

The Good Weather Continues...

sunny 18 °C
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Here are some photos of our time in Belgium.

Actually, this first one is a picture of the kids just before we got on the Eurostar in London. We were too worried about actually getting on a train (what with all the disruptions to service occasioned by last week's fire) to spend a lot of time looking around the newly renovated St. Pancras station, but what we saw was astonishingly beautiful. Apparently there are plans for a 5-star hotel to open in the Victorian fantasy building above the main train station.

Depart_for_Belg.jpg

Here we are upon our arrival in Mechelen. Note the skepticism on Margaret's face. I was a bit tired from hauling bags around the train, but Margaret clearly was not pleased with her first impression of the city here. That impression improved when she got her first taste of Belgian chocolate, not long after this.

Arrive_Mechelen.jpg

On Saturday, we took the train up to Bruges, where we spent the first half of the day at the seapark, pictured below, and the rest of the day in the town proper. The seapark is to Sea World roughly what Story Land in New Hampshire is to Disneyworld. The kids loved it, and even the adults marveled at the dolphin show.

Seapark.jpg

Bruges is the most amazingly well preserved late medieval city. Here is John, working as a street musician (the real musician is standing off to the side in this shot), just outside one of Bruges' fine churches.

JJR_street_music.jpg

Here are John and John relaxing with hot chocolate after their work on the hand-crank organ:

JJ_and_JM_..g_cocoa.jpg

The parents, not pictured, are sampling some of the local Bruges beer. Yum.

On Sunday, we had a more relaxing day, sleeping in and spending a couple of hours at the park in Mechelen. The park included several playing fields, a running loop (3.3K), many bicycle paths, an elaborate playground, a formal rose garden, an informal rose garden, and a spectacular dahlia garden. And, of course, a cafe/bar. Here is a shot of Margaret stopping to smell the roses:

M_smells_roses.jpg

Finally a picture of a most extraordinary sight: Mark and Karen's local "convenience store."

Vending_Machine.jpg

In addition to sodas and snack foods, this vending machine sells butter, eggs, milk, cheese, prepared foods, and several kids of beer and wine. And, of course, chocolate.

Posted by jrreisert 01:35 Archived in Belgium Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Belgium

The land of beer, chocolate, waffles and fries. We might never leave.

sunny 18 °C
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Hello friends,
This will be just a quick up-date. We will post some photos later today or tomorrow morning.

We managed to get to Belgium with no problems on Friday. Eurostar was only slightly delayed. We left London at 1:30 and arrived in Brussels at 4:45 (Brussels is an hour ahead, so it wasn't bad at all).

We are staying Mechelen, half-way between Brussels and Antwerp. We are staying with the O'Connells, minus Mark (Mark and Joe were friends in high school in Garden City; Mark and his family have lived in Belgium since 2001). Unfortunately, Mark was sent off to Japan on business. But, Karen (his wife) and his kids (John, age 9, and Lydia, age 7) were kind enough to take us in anyway! We stayed with them for a couple of days in 2004, so the boys were especially eager to get re-acquainted.

Karen made a delicious Belgian dinner for us Friday evening-- Waterzooi and rice pudding for dessert. It was delicious.

On Saturday, we got up early and walked very fast to the train station. Our goal was to get the 8:05 train to Brugge (Bruges). It was quite the effort to get all of us up, dressed and out, but we did it. The day was gorgeous. Sunny and warm.

Once in Brugge (about an hour and a half journey from Mechelen), we went to an amusement park that featured a dolphin show. The kids loved it. After lunch, we went into Brugge. Since it was such a beautiful day, the city was quite crowded (although, I guess, not nearly as crowded as it would have been in August). We mostly just wandered about, checking out the architecture, the canals, a couple of churches, and, of course, the local delicacies-- waffles, beer and chocolate (although the children were not allowed to sample all three!!). We picked up some delicious waffles and ate them as we watched boats on the canal. Then, it was time to sample some chocolate. We all had different opinions about what we liked best. Then, it was time to rest our weary bones at a cafe. The grown-ups had beer from a Brugge brewery. The kids had some yummy hot chocolate.

We arrived back in Mechelen at 8:00 in the evening. We had dinner out.

By the time we got back to the house, we were exhausted! We got the kids ready for bed and then Karen, Joe and I chatted some over another local delicacy-- genievre.

It's Sunday morning. We go to church late this afternoon, so we are having a lazy morning. The kids are preparing a skit. We'll go to a park in a bit and then to Brussels after lunch.

We are all still having a wonderful time. We hope all is well where you are.

Cheers,
Susan

Posted by jrreisert 01:32 Archived in Belgium Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Last Day in London

Did we miss anything?

sunny 18 °C
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Hello Friends,

Yesterday was an amazing day. We started early — well, the London version of early (which is somewhere around 10:00) — and went to the Museum of London. The Museum had some great kid activities. They both learned about the Fire of London in 1666. Then, John went off to do the Norman activity and Margaret did Medieval London.

The Museum of London is not far from St. Paul's, so that's where we headed next. Before going in, we had a little picnic outside (the weather has continued to be quite nice for us). Once in St. Paul's, we took a long look around the main floor of the Cathedral. Then, it was time to climb some stairs. Margaret did despair at one point, but she made it to the main outside viewing area at the base of the dome. Both Margaret and I contemplated going to the top of the dome, but after taking a look at the stairs, we decided against. Joe and John, though, did make it to the very top. John reported that his legs "were trembling" the whole time. After exploring the crypt, and the cafe, we headed out into the "sunshine" (about as sunny as it gets in London, what we would call partly sunny).

Here's a shot of me, Margaret, and John at the first (lower) outside balcony:

AtopStPauls.jpg

We took the Tube to Tottenham Court Road and, in a fit of complete lunacy, decided to see if we could get tickets to the evening performance of Spamalot. The kids loved Wicked so much, they wanted to go to the theater again, and how could we disappoint them??? We got good tickets for the show (first row of the second balcony) for 8:00.

Then, we split up. Margaret and Joe went to Buckingham Palace (Margaret just wasn't leaving London without seeing the Queen's residence). John and I went on our own little adventure, running a couple of errands and exploring St. James's Park. John and I then went to the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey at 5:00. What a beautiful service!

Here is Margaret in the Queen's Garden, with the rear of Buckingham Palace behind her (and slightly overexposed, unfortunately):

MMRatBuckingham.jpg

Margaret and Joseph met us after the service. We went off to Trafalgar Square to take a few photos with the lions and then we got something to eat at the Crypt Cafe at St. Martin's. Here's a shot of John and Joseph with one of the Lions:

Dad_JJRwLion.jpg

Then, it was time for the show! Spamalot was great. Not nearly as sophisticated as Wicked, but we laughed and laughed, especially during Act 1. We thought Margaret was going to hurt herself she was laughing so hard. John had no trouble following along and enjoyed it immensely.

Here is a shot of the outside of our flat, taken before our adventures began yesterday:

OurFlat.jpg

Now, there's nothing left but the packing up, getting to St. Pancras Station, and hoping that Eurostar will actually manage to get us to Belgium!

cheers,
Susan

Posted by jrreisert 23:35 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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