Friday, May 22, 2015

Family Time in Amsterdam: A Dutch Treat!

With our Jerusalem experience still swirling in our heads we headed back to Europe to one of our favorite destinations - Amsterdam. We don't often revisit cities since we feel we stay long enough in each to get an appreciation for the culture and lifestyle, but in this case, not one, but two opportunities to spend time with family made the difference so we booked a two week stay. And besides we love everything about this eccentric, historic and just plain beautiful city. It has a great sense of self and it's citizens are tall and proud and very capable, especially on bicycles. The vibe is one of laid back tolerance of humanity, but no tolerance for systems that don't work, garbage that is uncollected, and flower beds left bare. Everything here just seems to click.

We arrived in Amsterdam at the peak of tulip season.
Enjoying the city with nephew David on the right and Noah.
My nephew David and his partner Noah were finishing up a week in Paris visiting our daughter Mary and her family and then planned to spend a few days in Noah's favorite city, Amsterdam. The week following their visit, the French contingent would be on a school break so we found an family-friendly Airbnb house just outside Amsterdam in Haarlem and invited Mary to join us there, But that's jumping ahead.

Our apartment in Amsterdam was one of the best we've had. Spacious, well decorated, lots of nice touches and amenities left by our host - and a great location. We were in the stylish hoofddorppleinbuurt (18 letters!) neighborhood just off of Vondelpark, Amsterdam's version of Central Park. It was a short tram ride into the center of the city but we didn't mind being slightly out of the fray. Here's a look:

It was so nice to host real live guests for dinner - a rare treat.
I had a kitchen that was well equipped and a big dining room table so we hosted friends Jan and Desiree that live in nearby Leiden over for dinner. We met them in Seattle when they were slip mates of ours at Elliott Bay Marina. He is Danish and she is Dutch. We also had a great dinner with David and Noah where we caught up on news from Seattle. Both evenings felt like having dinner gatherings at home in Seattle - just in a different setting, and it made me very happy to back in that element.

Spent an afternoon enjoying Matisse and more with the boys.
David and Noah and I spent a fine afternoon at the impressive Oasis of Matisse exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. All four of us spent time in the Foodhallen market and then wandered street after street filled with unique shops. We had a great Indian meal at Purna in "The Nines" neighborhood as a grand finale to their visit. You don't realize how much you miss family and friends until you have them in a big hug at your doorstep.

After a full week in Amsterdam we moved house to Haarlem where we rented a large family home in anticipation of a week with Mary, Gregoire, Colette, Marcel and baby Jacques! The house was perfect for all seven of us: four adults and three children.

Haarlem turned out to be so charming it seemed more like a movie set than a real city. There were canals with baby ducks, tulips everywhere, towering church spires, farmer's markets, flower stands, beer halls, bakeries, playgrounds and pot stores. What's not to love?

Mary and I enjoyed the farmer's markets and cooking together.
A lot of words to say no parking!
The best part was the mix of old and new - we loved walking down cobbled streets lined with houses that were hundreds of years old but very much lived in today. The Dutch are very comfortable with passersby peering into their street level windows, because historically puritans had nothing to hide! So it was easy to see large flat screen TV's hanging on timbered walls and very urbane kitchens with ancient floor tiles and the odd brick oven, and of course nothing untoward. 

1670 is the year the house was built, not the street address! Note the large window.
My favorite house in our neighborhood - especially well decorated inside as seen through the windows!
How most folks get around including kids and babies.
This was a favorite of the many forms of human powered transportation.
The owners of the house have two little girls so there were lots of toys - especially of the princess and pony variety so Colette was in heaven. But there were plenty of things for all the kids to enjoy and Jacques could chew his way through any number of things. There were parks and canals everywhere and we could walk or bike the entire city.

Princess Colette was a very happy girl.
Who needs toys when you can climb on Grandpa!
The week flew by! With a 4 year old, a 2 year old and an almost 1 year old it seemed like it was always nap time, feeding time, bathing time, story time, play time, bed time and (for the grown-ups) collapse time. There were games and puzzles and snuggles with the kids and wonderful adult time with Mary and Gregoire.

Snack time for Marcel, Jacques and Mary.
It was Coco's turn to learn backgammon from Grandpa. He's taught all of our kids to play and now the third grandchild!
Marcel helping make Pain au Chocolat for breakfast.
A highlight of the week was celebrating King's Day! This national holiday was declared in 1885 to commemorate the Monarch's birthday - be they King or Queen. Since then it has turned into one wild party for all ages - and a day to proudly wear orange, the national color.  It starts early in the morning with city wide yard sales. The kids are out selling their toys and the grown-ups clear out the attic. Almost every house has a table or blankets out in front. There are also bake sales, beer stands, street music and entertainment. The atmosphere is like one giant neighborhood street party. After about 4:00 most of the family friendly part of the day is done and adults take over the streets to drink and sing and carry on into the night.

King's Day in Amsterdam - we were happy to celebrate with less frenzy in Haarlem.
The night time Flower Parade through the streets of Haarlem.
There were Kings Day entrepreneurs who charged 50p to pee!
Thanks for indulging me in some Grandparent sharing. Having family here in Europe has been a special part of this journey. And certainly meeting up with friends and family from the States is always a treat.

Happy First Birthday Jacques! May 20th, 2014 this little man joined the family.
We are currently in Salzburg heading to the Czech Republic tomorrow for stays in Brno and Prague. I am a blog or two behind since we left Amsterdam so stay tuned for a Malta redux and time in the Cinque Terra in Italy.

Thanks for following along.

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads

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