It was good to remind ourselves how exhausting it is to fast-travel like “normal” tourists and how much we prefer slow traveling over hopping from place to place in a quick succession. The prospect of slowing down again after zooming through Europe has never sounded more appealing. Even though we had to drive about a thousand kilometers from Czech Republic, it was a cheap price to pay for spending one uninterrupted month in Netherlands. As usual, we split the journey into two legs, including a sleepover in Weinsheim, Germany. We searched our beloved Airbnb picked a cozy apartment (59€) and dedicated the rest of the afternoon to geocaching in the vineyards. Our journey continued the next morning towards…
We’ve already had a chance to explore this little town near Amsterdam last year, visiting our wonderful colleague Ellen, who was so kind and let us stay at her place even this year (thanks a million! ❤).
What we have done
- We jogged and rode scooters on this neat bike path around the Recreatieplas Toolenburg, an artificial lake near Ellen’s house. Even though the water is not exactly crystal-clear, the kids definitely did not say no to swimming when the outside temperature got really hot.
- When looking for the perfect windmill to visit, we came across this one in the city of Leiden. Not only was it still functional but it also had a really interesting museum exhibition. Watching the huge rotating blades and the keeper adjusting the sailcloth to gain power was amazing. To be completely honest with you, we also chose Leiden because it is where Lulu’s blood mutation was discovered (having Wolverine’s regeneration abilities and Adamantium-reinforced skeleton would be way cooler but at least she has something. And who knows, maybe her mutation will turn into something useful one day).
- We checked out the ruins of the Brederode Castle – well, just another building that’s falling apart. However, there were two highlights we have to point out: 1) kiddos got to dress up in “historical-made-in-China” costumes that helped them to survive this OMG-mom-this-is-so-boring trip; 2) the ruin is in the Netherlands which means that no matter where you look the landscape will always please your eyes.
- We’ve heard so much about Utrecht that we just couldn’t miss seeing this city. The boat tour seemed like a perfect way to discover most of it and Alex and Lilly even got to sit behind the steering wheel. Although it felt like seeing a lot, we still did some walking in the area around the Domtoren tower. The only downside of this wonderful day was the DNF on this geocache.
- Hoofddorp surprisingly offered a large number of nice geocaches and playgrounds. During one of our walks, Alex suddenly decided he was done with long hair and we ended up buying a hair trimmer in local Lidl. And since he really couldn’t wait any longer, Lulu trimmed his hair guerrilla-style right there in the park behind the shopping center (and yes, the passers-by couldn’t believe their eyes!).
Before moving to the Dutch capital, we paid a visit to the cheese market in Edam. The market was obviously a show for tourists but it still made a pretty good impression. Besides, Edam is one those picturesque little Dutch towns where you can wander around without any real plans and just enjoy everything you see (does it ever get boring?).
After two weeks in Hoofddorp it was time to move to the nation’s capital, which was the original destination of our journey to the Netherlands. This time, we were house-sitting for our dear colleague, Joy, watching over her three lovely cats while she was camping with her family. At first, the kitties looked pretty excited to have us around, but only after a few hours of intensive care by our kiddos they came to realize how badly mistaken they were. For the next two weeks, they only left their hiding spots under the bed when they were starving or when it’s been really quiet for at least one hour (i. e. the three little sadists were finally asleep and the air was clear). We were a little concerned how our cat-sitting will affect their mental health but according to a follow-up by their owner, the cats seem to have gotten over it pretty well, even without heavy psychiatric medication.
What we have done
We have walked through Amsterdam’s city center the year before so we decided to pass this year (with one exception) as the heavy bicycle traffic and crowds of people make it a pretty stressful experience. After all, there’s a plethora of things to see and do around Amsterdam.
- Our first trip took us to yet another picturesque town, Naarden, which is surrounded by a star-shaped fortified wall (just check out the aerial pictures, they are super cool). Thanks to this multi-cache we literally zigzagged through this town. At the last stage, we even discovered that Naarden is the final resting place of the Teacher of Nations, John Amos Comenius. There is also a museum dedicated to his work. Tip: If you happen to have a sweet tooth during your visit, make sure to stop by the local ice cream store De Ster – their pistachio ice cream is out of this world!
- Our next stop was Rotterdam. The original plan was to do a boat tour through the harbor but we then found out that it really paid off to buy a combined ticket together with the entry to the Maritime Museum. Therefore, we decided to postpone the boat ride and just wander through the city. We ended up visiting the Cube houses (übercool!) and the old harbor where we spotted a memorial plaque to another Czech(oslovak) historical icon, the first president T. G. Masaryk.
- Two days later, the BIG day came (at least for our kids)! We finally went to the NEMO Science Museum and to make things even better, we got to go with another worldschooling family :-). The kiddos had a blast experimenting with a UV lamp in a real lab and building electrical circuits and an air-propelled race car. This place just never lets you down! We love it here.
- After three days of intensive workload we needed to relax a bit and Giethoorn seemed like the best place to do so. It’s another gorgeous (boooooring!) town with gazillions of water canals (the featured image at the top of this blog post comes from that day). Should you decide to follow everyone’s footsteps and rent a boat, we recommend staying off the touristy paths. As soon as we saw the crazy lines at the main rental place, we went the opposite way and stumbled upon the Pinterwerf Wildeboer. Not only can you rent a boat there and ride it through the tourist-free parts of the town, but you can also enjoy their delicious quiches and friendly staff. Be ready to join the crowd at some point, but thankfully only for a very limited time (trying to steer clear from crazy Asian “captains” that have no idea how to operate the boat and keep crashing into you is not as fun as it might sound). Anyway, nothing could ruin our amazing Giethoorn experience. It was definitely one of the most beautiful places we have visited in Netherlands. They have it all – canals, awesome houses with perfect yards, houseboats, ducks – you name it.
- Another day, another museum. This time it was the Zaanse Schans park. They offer a number of exhibits (some of them really rock!) or workshops (barrel or clog making). Our favorite was the main exhibit where you can learn all about the industrial history of the Zaan region. This place is definitely worth a visit but we recommend sticking to the low season for less people as it was insane in August.
- And finally our long-planned harbor boat trip and Maritime Museum! Well, the museum itself wasn’t as exciting as we expected – the most exciting part was the floor for kids where they could learn about major imported products like cocoa, rice, oranges, peanuts, potatoes, coffee, spices etc. The outside exhibit was definitely more fun to explore than the inside one but we had to hurry to make it to the harbor in time. As we found out, if you buy the combination ticket (Maritime Museum and harbor boat trip), you want to stop by the Spido ticket office to reserve time for your ride. As we found out the hard way, the places are limited and the lines are long! Thank goodness the lady at the booth was very understanding and helpful and few minutes later we were boarding the boat. The boys really enjoyed looking at the tankers, cargo ships, containers and cranes. The girls just enjoyed the ride. 🙂
- We got really lucky and somehow managed to arrange a private tour in the small local cheese factory named Kaasboerderij Schep for our last day in Amsterdam. The owner showed us every little detail of the cheese making process. We really enjoyed it. The only unpleasant part was seeing the baby cows in small cages – they are only allowed 30 minutes with their mothers after they are born :-(.
- And last but not least, on our way to Brussels, we visited the Moses Bridge which is built so that it divides the moat surrounding the Fort de Roovere.
This sums up our second visit to this wonderful country. We were just as excited as during our first one – friendly people, everyone speaks English, things really work (especially the police who check whether you have a valid parking ticket), beautiful landscape, picturesque towns, sea, good wind for kitesurfing – and we might even start liking the language. But not to be extremely positive – we would like better weather (although the weather was exceptionally good during our visit) and also lower prices would be nice. But then this country would be absolutely perfect and everyone would want to live here. 🙂