Monthly Archives: June 2014

Amsterdam – Day 5

Today was an exploring day. We walked, bus-ed, tram-ed (the Max) and shopped ourselves out. I actually bought stuff for myself for the first time too. Me and mom finally found a hair straightener (since mine would just break if we plugged it in over here) so now mom can dry her hair and I can wear mine down. Yay for little pleasantries! I also found jeans that are distinctly European and the only pair bigger than size 4 in all of Amsterdam. We also bought a few souvenirs and some fancy Dutch chocolate.

The fanciest H&M I've ever seen

The fanciest H&M I’ve ever seen

But we also saw some of the funnest architecture so far. In Paris everything was huge and imposing, but the architecture in Amsterdam is much more subtle. Graceful bridges, leaning buildings with beautiful roofs, understated patterns in the cobblestones… It’s very pretty. Everything curves along the roads and canals too, showing just how long the houses have been there. The big, important buildings have a definite Gothic look (Neo-Gothic? I think I heard that on the bus at one point).

Church in the main square

Church in the main square


Another church in a different part of the city

Another church in a different part of the city

Amsterdam is a fantastic city. I like it more than Paris, actually. Paris was gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but Amsterdam… Maybe it’s just the presence of normal people and normal, functional city things. Grocery stores, public transportation, families, people not in suits and dresses. Casual dining. Beer available outside of corner drug stores (that double as the local grocery store).

Fairly normal part of downtown Amsterdam

Fairly normal part of downtown Amsterdam

It may just be the Portland-like weather we’ve had in Amsterdam that makes me feel more comfortable.
Everything just feels like the European version of Portland, I guess. Except that the bike culture here would put Portland’s to shame.

The building leans both out and into the other building - we saw a few like this

The building leans both out and into the other building – we saw a few like this

Either way, tonight is our last night in Amsterdam. We’re out of the houseboat at 7:30 tomorrow morning (uuuuuuggghhhhhh) to catch a plane to Stockholm. Cross your fingers, toes, and other appendages in hope that we’ll have internet there that can handle uploading a few pictures.

Amsterdam is gorgeous

Amsterdam is gorgeous


Amsterdam – Day 4

We literally haven’t done anything today but sit around and read, but I wanted to say congratulations to the Netherlands for beating Mexico and being more enthusiastic about it than all of America after the Super Bowl.

Also as it took a good twenty minutes to write that much and will probably take even longer for this publish on the website, it’s safe to say that there will be no photos today.

Amsterdam – Day 3

The bus in Amsterdam was extremely disappointing. There weren’t many seats and the audio guide told you almost nothing. However, we still used them to travel around the city. Our first stop was the Anne Frank house. Except… The line wound for a couple blocks and was a couple hours long. Skip-the-line tickets have been sold out for three months. Needless to say, we won’t be visiting that museum. Also, toward the end of the day when we were all tired, we realized the Van Gogh was a very long way from anything else and most of the same artists will be at a museum in London. After a quick wander through the Heineken gift shop and many jokes about buying various souvenirs for my dorm room, we got on the bus again and got off at a botanical garden.

That was really where the day turned around. We ordered lunch in very airy, modern cafe in the garden and were served an amazing meal that you can read about in dad’s post (the title of which looks like he slammed his face into the keyboard). We spent a long time there just relaxing and enjoying the peace.

Then we raided the little garden itself. And gardens with my family are an interesting experience. Mom saunters around oohing and awing at all the flowers and proudly pointing out which ones we have in our backyard while dad looks for the strangest looking things to point out to us all. Bug hotels, cactuses with bubble-like flowers at the top…

And then of course there’s me, taking pictures of everything (I’m only at 400 so far) and muttering at the camera for not focusing on the little flowers (curse you autofocus).

I had a lot of fun there. Every kind of artist was around, and even though we didn’t walk past anyone else speaking English, everyone was smiling and kind enough not to walk through my photos. That’s something I’ve noticed a lot around Europe, actually. The bigger your black camera, the more people wait for you to finish. Everyone walks through cell phone pictures, duck under those little rectangle ones, walk around me with my mid-sized black one, and wait patiently beside the big black ones.

But back to the garden. Every corner had someone with a set of watercolors, oil paints, or charcoal pencils. Lots of people had cameras and with the classical music drifting over it all, I could have stayed for a long time. Or at least moved to Amsterdam and bought a membership or something.

After returning to the bikes and noise of the city, we waited for the bus again at an unmarked stop and went to the diamond factory. Lots and lots of sparkly things for very big price tags. We amused ourselves by looking for ones that cost the same as a year of college. You can get quite the pretty double-stranded, diamond studded necklace for a college education. Mom said no.

And then while me and Michael discussed just how an entire SWAT team would fit into the ceiling above the metal detectors of the diamond factory, we crossed the square to a little Delft Blue store (white pottery with blue paint). I enjoyed the free tea there and debated buying clog slippers, but we didn’t end up getting any pottery or slippers. Just some yummy carmel waffle cookie things.

And now we’re back at the houseboat, watching the boats and the blue herons and listening to a CD of the musicians who played in the garden this afternoon. Tomorrow we’re taking the day off, so maybe I’ll sit around and get a couple pictures uploaded. Dad put the wifi box on the roof so maybe it will work better now.

The windmill by the houseboat - we ate dinner behind it the first night.

The windmill by the houseboat – we ate dinner behind it the first night.



Just before leaving Steve Hockett gave me a pointer for Hortus Botanicus. This is a great little (emphasis on little) garden oasis in the middle of the city. I didn’t realize how much city noise we’ve been dealing with for the last week until we spent a few hours at the garden.
Actually we spent quite a bit of time at the cafe inside. They we’re have a special lunch and entrance deal and it was about lunch time, so why not. Turns out it will likely be the best meal we had in Amsterdam.
Kalfsgehaktbal it turns out is Dutch for veal meatball. It was served with a nice assortment of roasted vegetables and real balsamic vinegar. With a lovely fresh greens salad first course and a delicious ice cream and lime sorbet dessert we were in taste bud heaven.
To top it all off a string quartet started playing some amazing modern music. Fun without being too strange. A perfect accompaniment.

Amsterdam – Day 2

Today was a long, but really fun day. After catching the bus into downtown, we walked the Main Street of Amsterdam: Damrak. It was full of souvenir shops, fast food joints and clothing stores, along with the two best ideas I’ve ever seen. Little stores full of vending machines they put cheap put freshly made food into and places where you can buy a paper cone full of fresh french fries covered in a sauce of your choosing. So cool.
We then boarded our bus for a 5 and a half hour tour of some iconic, extremely tourist-y areas. They first took us to a small – well, they called it a village, but nobody lived there and it was just tourist stores. But along the bank of the canal were four or five actual windmills. Now, I’d love to show you pictures, but the internet today is even worse than yesterday, which I didn’t realize was possible. The windmills were are black and green with white and orange sails on the arms. They were big too. Easily three stories, not including the spinning arms. The one we climbed up the inside of was actually in use, grinding powder for paint pigments. After a swing through the handmade chocolate shop, we attempted a family selfie in front of the windmills and got back on the bus.
We were dropped off in a costal town and taken to a cheese factory, where they told us how they make cheese. But as we’ve all been to Tilamook more times than we can count, it was a little boring. Afterwards they let us raid the adjacent cheese store (as I’m eating some right now, I can tell you that it is very good) and then set us loose on the road in front of the bay to find ourselves dinner and do a little shopping. None of us wanted to sit down in a restaurant, so we hit the street food again. While mom and Michael got regular dinner food, me and dad decided we weren’t hungry enough for that and wandered over to a waffle stand. All I’m going to say is yum.

Then we got on a ferry and trundled across the bay to the quaintest of quaint sea-side villages to ever exist. It was about 6:30 and all the shops were closed. In order to get to our destination, we had to walk through narrow brick streets between buildings, over canals, past several backyards, and one old man who leaned out his door with a cigar to watch the tourists wander past. As soon as the houses ended, the fields began- full of sheep and cows.

After making our way through the village, we entered the traditional wooden shoe factory. A worker demonstrated how they make clogs with a monologue full of bad jokes, then invited us to try on sample clogs in all their sizes to see what fit. In wooden shoe sizes, my feet are less than half the size of my dad’s, even though we aren’t nearly that far apart in normal shoes. We didn’t buy any though, as one pair for the boys would fill up a backpack on their own.

And then the bus took us back, talking about how they have to constantly drain the land to keep it from turning back into marshes and teaching us Dutch which sort of sounds like a cat throwing up (no offense if any Dutch people are reading this for some reason…)

All in all a very intensely tourist oriented day.

Every day I appreciate being short even more. I don’t bang my head on any of the “low” ceilings, I can sit in seats without banging my knees on the wall/seat/person in front of me (even though my feet don’t entirely hit the floor…)
But it does make life easier.

The rest of our time in Amsterdam will be fairly laid back. Actually, the rest of our trip will be. We’re not intense travelers. We take the hop on hop off bus in Amsterdam tomorrow, which has only one loop instead of four and is an hour long as opposed to two hours if traffic is decent. We’ll be stopping by the Van Gogh museum, Heineken store, and diamond something or other. Great word choice, I know.

… I’ll let myself out. Goodnight.


Poffertjes are tiny little pancakes cooked on a special grill. Each pancake is about 2″ and a serving seems to be about 20 of them with a side of fruit syrup, fresh fruit and coated liberally with powdered sugar. The pancakes themselves are a little sweet and have that lovely crispy fried in just a bit too much fat texture.

Amsterdam – Day 1

Well, here we are. Second city. We left our apartment at 10 this morning, waded through Paris traffic, and went through the pleasantly quick and streamlined Paris security (didn’t even have to take our shoes off- yay!) After sitting around for a couple hours, we hopped onto a small plane and flew the grueling 40 minute flight to Amsterdam.

First impressions? It looks a lot more like a regular city than the world’s biggest historical monument. Apart from a giant windmill a half-mile away, the part of Amsterdam we’re staying in is very regular looking.

We have seen a couple hundred bicycles in the last few hours, but that’s to be expected here.

Unlike Paris, everyone seems much more relaxed. People wear jeans and t-shirts instead of suits and dresses. There are children and families around: we saw no one but single or couples of adults outside of tourist areas in Paris. We haven’t been downtown yet, so it will be interesting to see if that holds.

Also unlike Paris, we’re staying quite a ways from anything. And we’re on a houseboat!
This little thing is even quirkier than the last place. The internet is slower, the oven looks like a microwave, there’s no dishwasher, the front door doesn’t really close, and the promised washing machine and hairdryer are nowhere to be found. And since the washing machine at the Paris apartment was broken, we did a little washing in the kitchen sink and hanging on the deck.

But it’s still pretty nice. Apparently five ducks live on the deck outside and they’re talking away right now. The canal is nice, and there’s an actual restaurant down the road that doesn’t expect you to hang around for two hours and served hamburgers. Which means dad ordered a whole fish: I’ll get him to upload the picture of it later.

Le fish. It had eyes and everything.

Le fish. It had eyes and everything.

Did I ever mention that the bathroom in Paris had a tub with no blocker and a hand-held shower thing at the wrong end? Well… We have a regular shower now, and that’s super exciting.

Also, because the internet is so slow, no pictures of the houseboat tonight. We’ll look for an internet cafe tomorrow, but unless we’re successful… It might be a long week of reading my random ramblings instead of looking at pretty pictures.

Tomorrow we’re taking a bus tour of the countryside. Goodnight!

Oh My Louvre! (Paris – Day 4)

Hi! Mom’s turn to share.  Maggie is tired and overwhelmed by the all the art today but I’m sure you will hear from her too.

First some general thoughts so far. All the planning and preparations were well worth it. Our Paris apartment is quirky and fun. It feels like living an episode of House Hunters International! I’ve taken pictures to share 🙂 We’re learning to make do and adapt. It hasn’t been too hard.

Paris is much cleaner, friendlier and safer than I expected. It amuses me that since Italy was my last trip to Europe I keep wanting to say “grazie” and “Scusi”. Now and then I remember to say “Merci” but mostly English and pointing work just fine.

Back to Italy one more time. The cathedrals there were mostly brightly decorated with intricate mosaic designs and lots of glittering gold. Here is mostly amazing carved stone. I’ll have the boys bring back a picture of St. Marks in Venice to compare beside Notre Dame. I agree with Maggie – Notre Dame is my favorite. The Vatican was stunning of course but Notre Dame is more approachable and still impressive.

Okay, onto the Louvre. We got there fairly early and headed straight for the Mona Lisa. Walking into the Italian wing brought back many fond memories of Italy with my family. Maggie sadly didn’t remember anything from seven years ago. Well she did remember Botticelli”s ‘Birth of Venus”, so that’s good. The Mona Lisa is on a large wall hung by herself and high enough to be seen from the hallway. It was bigger than I expected and the colors more vibrant. We got closer than I expected too. Mostly I was happy for Michael to finally see her. He wanted to see her before we went to Italy. We drove by the area in Italy where it is thought daVinci started painting it so that feels like we’ve come full circle now. Michael doesn’t know why he has always been interested in her but now he has finally seen her in real life! Lucky kid, he even appreciates what a privilege that is.

Another surprise was the wide variety of art at the Louvre. We saw an Easter Island head, African art, Northwestern Native American art and Medieval art. The kids noticed paintings where the children looked like adults – really kinda creepy but they learned some art history! Another cool surprise was the area set up like the palace it was originally. Talk about opulent!

The northern masters area showcased how their art used more muted colors and was often rural landscape, farming or village life. Not so huge and dramatic as the French, Spanish and Italians. We were shocked to find they all painted scenes of dead, butchered animals. There were also several that looked like a modern day version of a picture celebrating a days hunting varied game.

Our route through the Louvre finished with Medieval exhibit. Tapestries, tiny carved ivory panels, a crown, a gold sword, tiles. It was quite the jarring juxtaposition to leave that and enter the very modern architecture under the glass pyramid and eat cafe food.

My only complaint is the Louvre only uses French descriptions of the art. I’m pretty sure American museums describe everything in at least two languages. Wayne’s translation app helped on several occasions, as did Maggie’s limited French. If you really care about learning I recommend buying the audio guide. There were some plastic guides in different languages but they never talked about what we were trying to figure out. On a positive note it only cost 12 euros each to get in in and Michael was free!

As I sit here writing this Maggie and Wayne are out exploring more. There was one more bus route we hadn’t taken. Michael and I have seen all we can absorb. I hear all the big city noises and marvel at the gorgeous cathedral when I look up. I hear sirens, voices, children playing and a steady stream of traffic. Much to my amusement I keep finding myself listening for a Ducati to come home 🙂 I guess I feel at home here!

Bye for now, I’ll leave picture posting up to Maggie.

Note from Maggie: Mom said pretty much all there is to say about today. Me and dad spent another few hours on the bus, just observing, taking pictures, and watching the crazy driving. The highlight of my day was convincing someone that I was actually French… for about 30 seconds. I ordered food for me and my dad in French and the server asked a question in rapid French that I could’t understand. So I just stood there and stuttered for a bit until someone translated into English. Now that I think about it, the cashier at the same little cafe only spoke to me in French… 1 and a half people convinced that I’m French! Yes!
Tomorrow morning we get kicked out of the apartment and head over to Amsterdam! Tomorrow I’ll be writing to you from a houseboat on one of the canals. I can’t even believe that’s going to happen.







As you can probably tell, we’ve fixed the internet problem. Pictures from yesterday are now up!

Day Tripping

After we spent many hours checking out all the art at the Louvre we crashed at the apartment for a bit. Eventually I got itchy feet and convinced Maggie to come with me to ride the final hop-on-hop-off bus route.
Maggie and me
Maggie is great fun to tour with!