Amsterdam has plenty to offer a family on holiday.
by barbara on October 29, 2006
Novotel is located near the RAI Congress Center, which makes it a great convention center hotel. My family and I enjoyed the convenience of having the RAI train station within close walking distance. We were always three tram zones away from the city center. The airport was easily (and cheaply - under 3 Euro) accessed via train.With a child in tow, the Novotel was also well suited for our needs. Our room had a comfortable double bed for the parents. A loveseat was folded out for the kid. (Two kids can stay in a room for free.) A minibar was stocked with Pringles and chocolate. There were BBC channels on the television, so we could watch shows in English... or pay to see a movie suitable for the family. Room service was timely though we found the room service menu to be very limited. The pizza tasted like the kind you buy from the supermarket freezer section, but kids are hardly food critics. All they care about are the pepperonis. The restaurant downstairs is okay if you want something convenient, but I found a meal there to be bland. Other features?The elevator requires a room key for added security. If you want a shuttle to the airport, it's €10 per person. There are several shops in the lobby. Some of these are high end. My son bought some playing cards with scenes of Amsterdam printed on them in the gift shop. Of course, the fuzzy picture of the woman in underwear in the Red Light District that's printed on the Queen of Hearts is his favorite. But what can a mother do? Make him look harder at the pictures of churches? Ha! The cards kept him amused in the restaurant while we were waiting to be served dinner. Reception is polite and helpful. Look for Novotel specials that are only offered on the Web. A prepaid room will be your cheapest bet, but these rooms aren't refundable. Over all, we had a comfortable stay.
I had read several reviews on IgoUgo about the Pancake Bakery that made it sound fabulous, so this is where we chose to eat lunch after a morning visit to the Anne Frank House. The first thing to notice is that its location near this museum can't be beaten. The restaurant opens at 12, so it's a perfect spot for a midday meal with kids. If you didn't know, the pancake is a Dutch creation. You can find pancake houses all over the Netherlands. Americans will discover these pancakes are more like crepes than the flapjacks served in the US because they are very thin. However, everyone will enjoy the marvelous ways Dutch pancakes are served. I never knew there were so many choices! At our table in the warm brick dining area, we ordered a banana and rum pancake, a Brazilian, which consisted of ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce, and a dish of "mini" pancakes, which would be good for little fingers to pick up and plop into little mouths. My son also had a ham and cheese omelet. (Where do boys put all that food?!?) Everything was absolutely delicious and reasonably priced. The pancakes range in cost depending on the ingredients, but they seemed to average around €8 each. The service was friendly and fast. The menus were in English, which was helpful. This also tipped us off that this is perhaps a bit of a "tourist" restaurant. Sooo, we made a point of finding another pancake house later on that had a menu exclusively in Dutch. (There's one near Dam Square that has a bright interior decorated with old movie posters.) This was great, too, but the Pancake Bakery held up. Touristy or not, the food is excellent. It should be mentioned that not all pancakes are sweet. While I didn't try one of the non-sweet options, you can get pancakes cooked with everything from artichokes to ham. Enjoy!
Every girl I've ever known has read Anne Frank's diary. Every girl I've ever known has been able to relate to the intimate entries of a child just turning into an adult. The smiling face of this child has long been the one that comes to my mind when I think of the horrors of World War II. Though her life was stolen from her in a concentration camp when she fell ill with Typhus, Anne Frank succeeded in giving voice to thousands of others just like her who died at the hands of the Nazis. She is the famous journalist she dreamed of becoming because her diary chronicaled the most human of struggles in the most inhuman of times. I think this museum is a must-see for any person visiting Amsterdam. We arrived shortly after it opened and got into line. Even close to closing, there will be people waiting to get inside. After a little more than a half hour, we reached the ticket window. This is a self-guided tour, but I found it very impactful. The rooms are unfurnished, but the movie pictures Anne pasted on the walls in her bedroom are still there. My son is 12, and he took his time reading the information that was available. He peeked up the stairs to where Peter Van Pel slept in the attic. Still, I knew it would be hard for him to really absorb what happened to those Jews who had been hidden in these small rooms. Fear is like a ghost in the walls when one remembers why the bookcase was first constructed to hide the stairway leading up to where eight people stayed for two years. Before German occupation in the Netherlands, more than 100,000 Jews lived in Amsterdam. After all was said and done, there were less than 5,000 left. I think it would be difficult to absorb the solemnity of this place with smaller kids in tow, but pre-teens and teens should be taken here to remember those events in world history that we as people should never allow to repeat. Older people who have problems with mobility might have a hard time navigating the narrow stairs up. They are almost as steep as a ladder.There's a very nice bookstore upon exit from the home's rooms. There is also a small cafe. More information is available on the museum's website: www.annefrank.org
If you've been to the dungeon in London, you'll find the dungeon in Amsterdam to feel very familiar. They're run by the same folks. However, I made a deal with my 12-year-old. I got to tour the Rembrandt House without hearing his complaints. HE got this attraction without hearing MY complaints. The moral of this story? Be careful of the deals you make with pre-teens. In truth, this is an okay thing to wile away a couple of hours... especially if it's raining. But under no circumstances should you be under the illusion that this has anything to do with culture. While the dungeon is based loosely around the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition that befell on the Netherlands as well as much of the rest of Europe, this isn't about history. Actors guide you through the dark rooms and then tell you about various methods of torture for people accused of treason. Adults might get a little bored with some of it. Boys will find the whole thing brilliant. The mirror maze here was the big hit. You're stuck in a room of mirrored passages for several minutes. My kid LOVED this. At the end there is a short (and I DO mean SHORT) ride on a roller coaster, but I did find the fact that such a thing could fit into such a narrow building absolutely fascinating.Bottom line? This attraction is expensive. It's not worth the cost of the tickets if you're paying full price like I did. If you look, however, you'll be able to find discount coupons. I know because right after we left to go to the next thing, I found a 50% off coupon in the booklet I had in my purse that showed me the city's tram map. (Yes, I felt like kicking myself when I found it.) If you DO get a deal, and you've got kids with you who love things like Halloween, well.... okay. You've got to give them something.
First, let me say that I purchased tickets for my son and me on a canal bus because I was cold, it was drizzly, and I simply wanted to get from point "A" to point "B" without having to figure out the right tram to get onto. This strategy was bound to lead to disappointment. This is how it went down. I forked over my 17 Euro for adult and 11 Euro for the 12-year-old. I got my tickets. I was told, "The next canal bus will be at this stop in one hour." Uh... WHAT? Well, I was rather disheartened, and this was the first morning. I didn't realize how close everything in the city center really is. I should have simply hoofed it to some other place that I might have found interesting and planned when we were going to catch our canal "taxi" after we were done with that. The moral of this story? Canal buses are a part of Amsterdam. When we were actually ON them, they were fine. I enjoyed moving through the city's many man-made waterways. Commentary pointed out architectural features on the buildings that I might have otherwise missed. (For instance, every house in Amsterdam has a hoist on the outside because furniture can't fit up the narrow staircases.) However, the fact that the ticket runs until the next day at noon isn't really that much of a bargain. The boats only run so often. AND the commentary goes in a hundred different languages, so the "tour" isn't all that grand. (By the time the recording gets to your native tongue, you've long moved past the building the narrator is describing!) Pluses? Kids like boats. Amsterdam is a city of canals. It's almost obligatory you go on at least one canal tour. If you time it right, hopping on and off is easy enough. Just don't expect a canal bus every 15 minutes. Bottom line? This is okay to do as a family if you have a little money to play with, and you want to get off your feet. However, if you're just trying to get around the city, use the trams (or walk) instead. They're cheaper, and they run more often. Central Station is the best place to find out information about Canal bus tours, but you can buy tickets at just about any stop you can find on the canals themselves. These stops are near all the major attractions. Just look down at the waterways!The BEST value is an All Amsterdam Transport Pass for 23 Euro. I wish the girl I'd bought my ticket from had told me about this one. The Canal bus office can sell this to you.
by barbara on October 30, 2006
Nemo is an interactive science museum in Amsterdam that proved to be my kid's favorite attraction in the Netherlands. Hands down. He loved it. And while the cost of the tickets can add up at 11.50 Euro a pop, you'll get plenty of bang for your buck if you spend the time you'll need to see everything. In fact, the adults will get tired long before the children. What type of exhibits are here? Exhibits that you can TOUCH. For instance, there was a room where a woman had supposedly met an untimely end. We were supposed to play the part of a modern "Sherlocke Holmes" and find DNA markers to compare to the suspects. Then we learned how DNA factors into the unique genetic identities of all living creatures. There was a water exhibit that showed how water in Amsterdam is purified. There was a giant interactive robot. And then there was an exhibit you'd probably only see at a children's museum in Amsterdam. Called "Let's Talk About Sex!", this was geared towards teens and pre-teens. You had to be 12 to enter. It proved to be nicely done... a sensitively scientific presentation for what can sometimes be a taboo subject. Most exhibits have both Dutch and English explanations, so you can choose the language you need. However, announcements -and some presentations- are done in Dutch only. While there are several places to grab food on the multiple floors of the museum, we had lunch at the cafe on the roof. The view up there is spectacular! It was a lovely day, and we enjoyed a piece of apple pie for dessert. Tip: Get to the museum as soon as it opens at 10am. We did this and had time to explore the first floor without much waiting before a long line formed in front of the ticket window. By the time we left in the afternoon, Nemo was quite crowded. It's VERY popular.
The Netherlands is a beautiful country. It is also a fairly small place. It takes no time at all to leave the city behind you and find a land of wooden shoes and windmills. As touristy as it might sound, we wanted to do just this thing, and Zaanse Schans is only 20 minutes via train from the Central Station in Amsterdam. You can take a tour if you'd like, which will set you back about 20 Euro per person. We took the train, which was under 15 Euro for ALL our tickets including the return trips. We simply got off at our stop and had a five minute walk from the station to a pleasant afternoon.Zaanse Schans still uses its windmills. We peeked into the one used to ground mustard seeds before buying a small glass jar of the condiment to take home. We gazed across the water at the lovely houses that were built by wealthy merchants who controlled this area. You can take a boat ride if you'd like. We walked by the goats and ducks walking happily on the flat grasslands reclaimed from marsh and found a workshop where a gentleman was showing how wooden shoes are made. One of the few memories I have retained from my childhood travels in Europe was picking out wooden shoes of my own in the Netherlands. Of course, I had to buy my own son a pair of shoes, too! A decent sort of boy, he played along with my excitement and even wore his shoes - much to the amusement of several Japanese tourists - as he clomped along on the gravel paths outside the shop. Little kids will certainly like having their picture taking in the giant wooden shoe they'll find in this village. While I thought the pancakes we had in the Pancake Bakery in Amsterdam were better, we did enjoy a snack of sweet pancakes at a cafeteria style restaurant in the village. All-in-all, Zaanse Schans had all the makings for a nice family outing.
Rembrandt is one of the most famous artists in the world, so it is understandable that Amsterdam is proud to claim him as a former local. He lived for many years in an absolutely stunning house in the predominantly Jewish quadrant of the city sometimes referred to as the "Jews' Corner." As was pointed out to me on our canal bus tour, Rembrandt was not Jewish, so the choice of his neighborhood can be seen as an example of how religious tolerance was prevalent in the Amsterdam of his day. (Rembrandt was more interested in the quality of the real estate than in the religion of his neighbors.)Now, I have to say this museum will not be all that interesting for children, but teenagers might find it worth the time. As a person who enjoys architecture, art, and interior design, I certainly enjoyed listening to the recorded tour as I walked from room to room chasing after my son. I had known that Rembrandt was an art dealer as well as an artist, so I liked seeing the receiving rooms lined with paintings where he once served drinks to his prospective customers. In truth, I found Rembrandt's history in the end to be a cautionary tale about simple economics. Flush with money when he purchased his house, the artist spared no expense filling his home with lavish collections and creature comforts. Yet he never completely paid off his mortgage. When there was an economic depression, and money wasn't coming in, he went bankrupt and lost everything. After the tour, my son and I talked at length about Rembrandt's penniless end in the modern context of how people sometimes invest and save. THIS was certainly an interesting opportunity for me as a parent to make some points about wise ways to handle money. Speaking of which.... An adult ticket here is 12.50 Euro. A child is a bargain at 1.50!
by barbara on July 18, 2007
An easy day-trip from Amsterdam, the De Hoge Veluwe National Park has a lot to offer to any family visiting the Netherlands. A friend of mine suggested we take our kids (2, 7, 9, and 13 years old) there to check it out. I am so glad that she did! With 5,000 hectares of varied landscape to offer us, we found the park between Arnhem, Ede, and Apeldoorn. We easily drove to the entrance via Hoenderloo by typing 188243 into our GPS system. (Don't you just LOVE those things!) After you park, you can buy tickets for the art museum (an extra 7 euros per adult, 3.50 per child under 12) in the center of the park as well as pay for entry to the park itself. Both my friend and I love the work of Vincent Van Gogh, so the museum was a must. Once a part of a private collection, the paintings here are amazing. Kids are given a sheet with parts of a painting they "scavenger hunt" for as they walk up and down the halls. They will like the modern works on display though my friend's daughter kept exclaiming as she saw certain pieces -blocks littered across the floor, a video of a man's face as he screamed into a fan, dots on a canvas- "They call this art?!?" Out of the mouths of babes...Any parent who wants to teach their kids about some of the masters will find plenty of opportunity here though. Walk from the dark brown and black canvases that Van Gogh painted of people in the countryside in the Dutch style before he discovered the light and color that explode off the canvases he composed in France. Look closely at art by Picasso and explain how he filtered the world through an artist's eye. Wander the sculpture garden and discuss this different kind of art form. If you don't have kids in tow, linger longer, but we took an hour.Afterwards, grab one of the 1,700 white bikes littered around the park. This is why you are visiting the De Hoge Veluwe. You can take advantage of the miles and miles of bike trails that will take you through forests and by sand dunes. Yes, that's right. Sand dunes. At times the terrain here looks like a desert! Very, very cool. If the kids need a break from pedaling, go to the "underground museum" near the visitor center. All of our kids loved this tactile learning experience. They peered through holes in the floor to see fox cubs in burrows, worms in the earth, and all kinds of other things. They liked the reprieve from the sun...and they didn't realize it was all educational!This was one of the nicest experiences I had in the Netherlands. From riding the bikes, having a picnic, looking at art, everything felt so.... Dutch. A must-do if you can swing it. Need more info? Go to www.hogeveluwe.nl and choose the English option at the top.
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