It’s tulip time!

photo-147A 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.

photo-148Fri 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.

27 thoughts on “It’s tulip time!

  1. I love tulips also (would highly recommend white flower farm tulips) and am relieved that ours are FINALLY coming up, now that it’s almost May! It sounds like a really lovely, albeit somewhat exhausting, vacation.

    Reading this, what struck me as the most incredible is that your kids tolerated not one, but TWO days of adult museums in a row. This is not something even I (ostensibly an adult) can do. You must have the most patient, well behaved kids on the planet. I would love to see the Van Gogh museum someday.

    1. @oldmdgirl – they’re generally well behaved but not necessarily angels. We raced through the museums pretty quick! And yes, they were pretty much shouting “no museums!” after the second one…

    1. @Gladys – that does sound difficult! At least Europe from the East Coast was only about 7 hours over and 8 hours back. Years ago when flying to Asia, I remember that a woman sitting next to me had her toddler on her lap the whole time. He never bothered me at all, but I know it was a long, long flight for her.

  2. Tulips are my absolute favorite flower, and I need to put this trip on some sort of list, myself. When we went to Amsterdam it was November. But we bought some lovely bulbs home that my mother & MIL grew the next spring! I’ve been thinking more about the idea of international travel with the kids. I’m sure we’d have a good time, we’re just traveling SO MUCH these days to see family, go to weddings, and other obligations that we have no time or money for planning something like this. I also sort of want to wait to spend that kind of money until the kids are a bit older and can enjoy/remember the trip (and make the trip more enjoyable for us, too). After a weekend like we just had, I’m certainly not in the mood to take those boys on a long plan trip….

    1. DC1 really wants to see Yosemite. I want to take the family to see the Redwood forests. But it is so hard to travel out West for us. All my conferences are East Coast (or SoCal) and the family lives in the Midwest. So we don’t have time or opportunity even to travel the US.

      1. @nicoleandmaggie – Yosemite is on my list too – haven’t seen it yet! Or the Grand Canyon. Well, someday!

      2. Yes, we pretty much just travel to the same 2 states over and over again to see our families. Both in the south but nowhere near each other. I’d love to go out west/pacific northwest. Our conferences do alternate coasts, but I generally pick the closer one because funds and time to travel are limited at work, too…and I don’t want to waste 2 days flying (two days away from my family, no less…unless we can all go, which depends on husband). I don’t think my kids would appreciate the grand canyon…I know I would’t have as a child. I vividly remember Yosemite, but I was 12 when we went. That whole trip is a magical memory for me, but my sister, 3 years younger, remembers very little

        1. We lived all over the country growing up and my parents took us all over the place before I was 7 and we settled in the Midwest. Where we live now there just isn’t much within a day’s drive. It’s one reason I miss California so much– there’s so much to do over a weekend or a daytrip and so many amazing things to see.
          To go anyplace really interesting from where we’re living now we have to actually make plans and get time off work and so on. We’ve done the drive to DH’s family, but there just isn’t all that much of interest in between us. We’ve kind of done the two cities on the way. I really miss nature and altitude and something other than corn and soybeans.

    2. @Ana – yes, there’s something to be said for doing this sort of thing later when they’ll remember it. On the other hand, I like to travel, and I’m getting tired of not traveling as I wait for my kids to grow up. So I’m hoping we’ll do it now and later! I guess my husband just has to keep earning his frequent flier miles…

      1. This is a recurring argument/discussion in our house. One of my dreams was to visit Ireland, so we did it when our daughter was 2.5. She remembers some of it still, but likely won’t as she gets older. But I can’t wait until our younger one is 7 or 10 or whatever age is “old enough to remember”! I’m hoping our next big trip will be next year sometime.

  3. It’s so good to read a day by day account of your trip, Laura. Dad will be very happy that you saw Houwerzijl. Hope you took photos there. Eager to see all your photos!

  4. I loved Amsterdam when I visited two years ago. I wasn’t there for bulb season but I went to the botanic gardens and had a lovely time.

    One of my pet peeves as a frequent traveler is that the U.S. has not gone over to the credit cards with the smart chips in them. I have spent much time wandering around French train stations trying to find a machine that recognized my card and I never did get to rent that bicycle in Marseilles. #firstworldproblems

    1. @Astra- I know! It’s just one of those curve balls that gets thrown into things, because in most places, your card *does* work. But then you get complacent, and you’ll be somewhere without enough cash and boom! You’re stuck.

  5. Enjoyed reading your adventure. I’m soon taking my 6.5-year-old grandson Sebastian to Scotland for two weeks. Really looking forward to doing it with him.

    Our itinerary includes standing stone circles, hiking, exploring, weapons and armor and castles, castles, castles. …

  6. Re traveling with kids too young to remember: There’s something to the idea that traveling is a good skill to learn when young. (My sis & BIL won’t take their kids out to dinner b/c they think they won’t behave. But I’m wondering how they’ll ever learn to eat properly at a restaurant if they never go to one.)

    Anyway it sounds like you were able to enjoy the trip despite some limitations due to the kiddos. Good on ya!

  7. And now I feel like I’ve been aiming low! One of my “list of dreams” items is to plant a bazillion tulip bulbs in my very own front yard one year. It had never occurred to me to visit the Netherlands during this season! Loved hearing about your trip.

  8. “Well, little boy, how was your spring break trip to the land of revolutionary art, Anne Frank, tulips, windmills, and remarkable feats of water/land engineering?”

    “The zip lines were so much fun!”

    Just kidding! My son did an exchange a few years ago. The Dutch boy who stayed with us was delightful, with long dreadlocks! DS’s school group were given bicycles for their week there, and cycled everywhere, even 20 miles out in the country. My own backpacking stop there in 1980 coincided with Easter, no tulips yet but the daffodils were shimmering gold everywhere.

    Sounds like you had a memorable trip, and how nice Nanny could come with you!

  9. Just want to add, we have a soft spot in our hearts for the Netherlands. In the war, FIL fought out of Britain in the invasion and liberation of the Netherlands (this after escaping from German prison camp…twice!) He went back for many commemorative events. His pictures brought tears to my eyes: receptions, luncheons, dinners, the former soldiers stayed in families’ homes, parades. People wrote “thank you!” on signs, in chalk on the sidewalks, in soap on shop windows, young parents lifted their children to their shoulders so they could see. His last trip was just a few years ago, when he was 95. I imagine these commemorations will fall away, as the old soldiers fall away too, as dear FIL did last year. But it was a beautiful thing.

    1. @Nother Barb – wow, that’s quite a story. The Netherlands got hit pretty hard — we heard a lot about the Hunger Winter of ’44-45 while there.

  10. Sounds awesome ! Anyone know about when tulips hit their peak here in the Northeast. Longwood Gardens has a great collection and I was shooting for that as my flowers with kids adventure ; ) .. tips ? !!!
    sounds beautiful and good for you for taking a babysitter. Last year our family vacat was hitting florida very very hard. we did like 4 amusement parks in a week and the kids and we all did LOVE it. But I was really tired and overwhelmed to come back to work after such a kid-focused “vacation”. It was most definitely a vacation where we strengthened our family unit but wasn’t really about our marriage or my rest ; ) soooo this year I booked us on a cruise and I’m super excited about it b/c cruise comes with kiddie camp all day long .. we won’t use i tall day long but knowing that we can have that me time each of us or that we (2) time rather than parenting work on top of work work.. I think that is important … it’s a shame say s sandberg and a lot of women don’t discuss the nanny/babysitter/grandparent/childcare b/c honestly that is a part of it.

  11. My family did A LOT of travelling when I was a kid (with 4 kids in tow) – we went all sorts of places, from Singapore to London to Beirut to San Francisco to the Maldives… We may not all remember the trips but I think the general life lessons we learned have stuck with us. For example, as the oldest – my ability to stack an airport baggage cart is phenomenal. 😉 seriously though, it opened our eyes to how the world is full of amazing, different people and places. And with that example, I never considered that traveling would cease after I had kids. It hasn’t changed really – we took our first family international trip when Moo was 11 weeks. It was a bit stressful, but mostly good – like any trip! Now, Moo is 4 and has had her birthday in 4 different countries.

    Oh, and for the commenter above @cara – our family holidays as kids included a lot of tropical resort holidays with kids club. We loved it – lots of meeting new kids and activities. Now I realise my parents loved them too. 🙂

  12. this sounded awesome! i have been to the netherlands once and loved it, and would love to go back. i’m very interested in how you used the nanny on your trip! we’ve thought about taking a bigger trip at some point and bringing our nanny who we love, but was unsure about how to plan the division of labor. it didn’t sound like you went on any adult-only excursions/datenights/etc. (we probably would 🙂 ).

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