5 Days in the Netherlands: Part 2

 

5 Days in the NetherlandsDay 4: Cheese Farm and Amsterdam

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Holland I think of wooden clogs. And cheese. Well, I pretty much always think of cheese. Mmmmm… cheese… Naturally, we had to go to a cheese farm/clog making factory that was right outside the city the day we were scheduled to visit Amsterdam. Enter Clara Maria dairy farm. This was a cute place where they do demonstrations on how to make wooden clogs and cheese. There is a shop where you can taste and buy the cheese they make there (as well as many other souvenirs), a barn where you can look at the cows, and a little restaurant. It takes less than an hour to look around the whole place and if you go in the spring you can see cute little newborn cowscalves. However, if your kids are like mine they will find the barn too stinky and the cows terrifying and will not really appreciate the rustic nature of the whole thing. I liked it though. And we got some pretty good cheese. If you can resist buying stuff in the shop (who are we kidding, we all know you’re going to buy at least one block of cheese) this is a completely free activity. If you’re going to be near Amsterdam it’s worth the trip.

Once we were full of cheese we headed toward Amsterdam’s city center. Did you know there are companies that give FREE tours of most major European cities in English? Well there are! The tour guides work off of tips so you don’t have to pay anything (although you should if you like your tour guide. C’mon, don’t be a jerk). I reserved us spots on one of these free tours of Amsterdam through Sandeman’s tour company. After the farm we drove to the link-up point in the city center and found some parking. Make sure you leave an extra hour for traffic and finding a parking spot, which is always challenging in European cities. We brought the double-stroller for our two little ones since the tour was scheduled to last about 3 hours, plus I brought the baby wrap ( Boba Baby Wrap, Grey )in case the baby got tired of the stroller. If you only have one day to spend in a city that you don’t know a whole lot about, I would definitely recommend one of these tours. We were able to see all the major highlights of the city without having to worry about getting lost, looking up what the major highlights were ahead of time, researching why these highlights were historically or culturally important, etc. It’s the lazy woman’s way to learn. The tour guide was great and explained lots of interesting facts about all the places we saw. We took a 20 minute snack/potty break about half way through and she was helpful in pointing out places that people might want to check out after the tour on their own. The only potential down side was it was a lot of walking. We did okay with the stroller and our 5-year old has boundless energy so it worked out for us. Oh yeah, and they do take you through the red-light district so you may have to cover your kids’ eyes for about 5 minutes if you don’t want them seeing nakie ladies. Our 2-year old and baby were too young to notice or care and I pretended the cobblestones were suuuper interesting and kept pointing them out to my 5-year old. Between him trying to look at the cool pathway and being in between my husband and me so our bodies mostly blocked his view when he did look up, he seriously did not even notice the girls in the windows. Or you could just not be as prudish as us and not worry about it… whatever floats your boat.amsterdam

This was a fun, educational, and cheap day. Ain’t that the best?! The only thing we had to pay for was parking in the city. We did tip the tour guide and buy cheese at the farm, but that was our choice. Plus we saved money by packing PB&J sandwiches for lunch and going back to our trailer to cook dinner. Winning!

Day 5: Madurodam and the drive home

Our last morning in the Netherlands we packed up and headed out for a stop at Madurodam before we drove home. Madurodam is an amusement park that has miniature versions of all the major cities and sites in the Netherlands. There are little activities throughout the park that teach you about the history of the Netherlands, architecture, windmills, canals, etc. There are also two huge playground areas and an indoor sports area where you can kick around a soccer ball. We sboyspent a few hours here and our boys enjoyed it. They especially liked the playground. We ate lunch at the café on site and then headed out for our long drive home.
This place is neat, but I think it would be better for older kids. It is pretty expensive for little ones who pretty much just want to play on the playground. The
food in the café was good, and fairly priced (we paid about 40 Euro for our family of 5) but when you are used to bringing your own sandwiches for lunch, that can add up. I would say if you have school-age kids this place is totally worth it because there really is a lot for them to see and learn, but if you have little ones like us just go find a free playground instead.

After lunch we drove all the way home. Originally I had planned to stop overnight in Frankfurt, but traffic was flowing pretty smoothly by the time we reached Frankfurt so we decided to tough it out and keep on driving all the way home. We had officially reached the point at which one is just completely over vacationing and just wants to sleep in one’s own bed. Of course once we passed Frankfurt we were in one continuous traffic jam the rest of the way home (AAARRRGGHHH!). We drove and drove and sat in hours of traffic and drove about 11 hours and a bazzilion potty breaks later, we were home.

Reflections:

Must do’s: The windmills! Also, take a tour of Amsterdam for sure. What to skip: If you are short on time don’t bother with the cheese farm. Unless it is April-June don’t worry about seeing tulips.

Where we saved $: Booking lodging at campsites; using Esso stations and our gas rations program and fueling up in Germany before crossing the border to the Netherlands; packing sandwiches and taking advantage of the kitchen in our trailer to cook dinner most nights. Where we overspent $: We ended up grabbing KFC after we saw the windmills, which was too expensive for food that was not special; I could have researched better places to park in Amsterdam so we wouldn’t have spent so much on a parking garage; I bought a few too many souvenirs; the tickets at Madurodam.

Overall, we really enjoyed this trip. We didn’t completely break the bank and we were able to see a lot of cool sites in just a few days. The car ride was torturous, but you really can get out and see the world even with three little kids! Go!



5 Days in the Netherlands: Part 1

Of the time I was in Germany I spent two months waiting on passports for my boys, nine months pregnant and not willing to leave the country, and another two months waiting for my baby girl’s passport to arrive after she was born. As soon as that sucker came in the mail I planned a trip to the Netherlands. Why the Netherlands? Well, it was within driving distance and I remembered my mom saying it was one of her favorite places to visit when she lived in Germany as a child. So I did my research, planned our route, booked rooms and tours and we headed out on our five day journey.

Day 1: Driving

We left early-afternoon Friday so the boys wouldn’t miss too many days of kindergarten. Schloss BergWe drove and drove until we got to Solingen, Germany which is near Frankfurt and Cologne off the A3. I chose this location because although we could have driven straight to the Netherlands, it would have taken 7-8 hours without traffic or any stops. That means that for our family it would have taken about 12 hours because we have to stop practically every hour to pee, or to breast feed, or to get gas, or for dinner, or to get coffee, or… you get the idea. Plus there is always traffic. Like always. Every. Single. Time. Anyway, Solingen was a little over half way and I had done a Google search for “castles near Frankfurt” and Castle Burg in Solingen had shown up. I figured the stop would give us a break from driving overnight and something cool and inexpensive to see the next day. The drive went pretty much as expected. Lots of stops, lots of traffic, lots of my husband swearing this was the last vacation we were ever going on. What should have taken 3 hours took 5. Fortunately I had downloaded some children’s audiobooks to my iPod so we had some entertainment for the trip. This was the first time I had thought to do this and it was seriously the best idea. My only regret was that it was such a good idea that we listened to all the books I had downloaded before we started our drive home.

We stayed at an AirBNB property in Solingen that night. This was the first time I had used AirBNB and I was pleasantly surprised. I made sure to book with one of the people that the website recommended as reputable that had a lot of good reviews since I had heard horror stories of people canceling their bookings on visitors the night before or the property being really shady, etc. Fortunately, the apartment was really cute and in a quiet neighborhood. It was the whole top floor of a large house and was set up like a 2 bedroom apartment with a little living area and our own bathroom/shower. The beds were so much more comfortable than regular hotel beds and it was really nice having a separate bedroom for the boys so we could actually all get some sleep. Plus, the gentleman that owned the house and lived on the lower floor left chocolates on the adult’s bed and Kinder Eggs on the kid’s bed, which our boys LOVED. The showers were nice, the rest was great, and we woke up in the morning to some fresh coffee.

Day 2: Burg Castle and more driving

Jonah and daddy castleWe got up, packed up, and moved out. On our way up to the castle we stopped at a McDonalds drive through (I know, I know… we’re soooo American) and grabbed some croissants and coffee for breakfast. Burg castle was awesome. Up on a mountain, like so many German castles, it had a great view (it would have been better if it weren’t cloudy that day, but still). There is actually a ski-lift type thing you can ride to the top, but with a 5-year old, 2-year old, and an infant we thought it best to skip that attraction – I could just imagine my boys squeeling with excitement as they squirmed off the ski lift chair and plummeted to their deaths, so nope. The castle is a whole compound with shops, restaurants and cafes surrounding the center palace museum. The inside of the actual castle building is really cool with all kinds of medieval artifacts, taxidermy, weapons and artwork and a huge tower that you can climb all the way to the top. Of course all the signs were in German, but with three little kids who has time to actually read the signs in a museum anyway? They also do some kind of German version of medieval LARPing on the castle grounds, so there were a bunch of people dressed up as knights and peasants as we were making our way out. One of the “knights” even let our 5-year old hold a sword which, unfortunately for the “knight”, our son was unimpressed with. Sorry knight. Bring a lightsaber next time or something, then maybe we’ll be impressed.

After exploring the castle for a few hours we had lunch at a little waffle restaurant in the castle compound and then made our way out. Overall review for the castle: it’s a good family activity, maybe better for kids over 4, or at least those that can walk on their own. There are a lot of stairs and narrow passageways so a stroller wouldn’t really work – if you’ve got tiny ones, bring a carrier. This is a decent rainy day activity as there is a lot to do inside the castle. You do have to walk outside a little bit, but it’s not bad. Cost is not bad a few Euro for parking and €5 for adults, €2,50 for kids ages 3-18 to get in. I’d do it again if I was nearby.

We continued on our way and drove to our campsite in the Netherlands. The drive was not nearly as bad as the previous day’s as most major cities were behind us. It was amazing how as soon as you cross the border into the Netherlands you go from hilly forest country to flat farmland. The farther into the Netherlands we drove the more canals we saw and finally we started seeing a few windmills off the highway here and there. The campsite we stayed at was about half way between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. I am used to Germany which is a big country with cities that are far apart, so when I was looking for the best location to stay I was stressing out because the windmills were on one side of the country, Amsterdam is on another, Maurodam is somewhere else, the tulips aren’t near the windmills, ack! However, once we got there we quickly realized that all these “far apart” things are only like an hour from each other. The country is really small. If you have a car, it doesn’t matter where in the Netherlands you stay, believe me, you will be able to see everything in a few days. Driving in the Netherlands is pretty easy, the roads are nice, there are no tolls, plenty of gas stations and traffic isn’t bad at all.

Finally we made it to our camp site. We rented a trailer at a camp ground. We got this idea from our vacation last summer when we went tent camping through France. We noticed from our sad little tent that there were happy people on the other side of the campsites who had trailers with real beds, real kitchens, and *gasp* their own private toilets! Once we got home from that trip I got online and discovered that many campsites across Europe have trailers like this and they’re pretty affordable. For example, a spot to pitch your tent for the night usually costs 20-30 Euro per night. Our trailer cost us 75 Euro per night. A hotel would have cost us at least 100 Euro per night for a family of five, and it would have been a single room in a hotel that may not have been so nice and probably would have either had no onsite parking or very expensive onsite parking. The trailer had three bedrooms, its own kitchen stocked with utensils and cook ware, our own bathroom, cable tv, free Wi-Fi, a little private yard, easy parking, a playground, bicycles to rent and indoor swimming pool on the campsite. And we were there in the off-season, if we had been there from April-September they also would have had a little grocery store, restaurant, and kids club available. If you’re cheap, but don’t want to have to deal with packing a ton of your own stuff, I think a trailer is the way to go.

That night I went to a nearby grocery store, grabbed some food to make for dinner and breakfast the next day, and we enjoyed an evening in our little trailer.

Day 3: Tulip Fields and Windmills

So the tulips. Yeah. Okay, so I was thinking “we’ll go to Holland and we’ll just be driving through fields and fields of colorful flowers”, and the websites all said “you’ll go to Holland and you’ll just be driving through fields and fields of colorful flowers”. I did my research. I Googled the best driving routes. I read reviews. The internet told me there would be flowers as early as January – sure the tulips bloom in April, but all other sorts of flowers should be blooming before then! Nope. We were there in March and it was too early. We drove around for a few hours and saw a few fields of daffodils and aNate beach lot of fields of dirt which I’m sure a month later would have been beautiful and full of tulips. So don’t do that. If you want to see the flowers really wait until April.

Since I didn’t want to have driven an hour in one direction and NOT see ANYTHING, we decided to head to the beach. Yes I know it was March. Obviously we didn’t swim, but it was nice to get out of the car and see the ocean. The boys enjoyed running around, playing in the sand, and picking up sea shells. There were people riding horses and my 2-year old really liked looking at the horsies. The baby wasn’t a big fan of the wind, so after a while we headed back to the car and fed her and made ourselves some PB&J sandwiches before our drive back to our camp site.

By the time we were back at our trailer it was early afternoon. We put the little ones down for a nap and I looked up the best places to see windmills. Originally I hadn’t planned on going to see the windmills because the site that had the best reviews (Kinderdijk) was the opposite direction of the flower driving route and also didn’t really look to be near Amsterdam, which was on the agenda for the following day. However, as I mentioned earlier, the Netherlands is a small country. So although it’s noIn the windmillt right next to Amsterdam, the windmills were less than an hour away from our campsite. I checked to see what time they would close (5:30pm) and once we realized we had plenty of time we got the kids up and ready and headed out.

I am so glad we decided to squeeze this into our vacation because Kinderdijk was our FAVORITE part of the whole trip! On the drive there our GPS led us on a route that took our car across a river on a ferry boat (like 2 Euros we hadn’t planned on but soooooo cool for little boys), which was neat. The town the windmills are in is really cute. You pay a few Euro for parking and then you can just walk right on down to the windmills. You can either just look at the outside of the windmills or pay €7,50 per person to view an informational movie and go inside two of the windmills. We did the latter. The movie was really informative and I learned more about windmills than I ever will need to know. It was Dutch with English subtitles, so between chasing down our kids in the theater and trying to read we caught maybe 2/3rds of what the movie actually said, but between my husband and I we were able to put the story together. Also, while we were waiting for the movie to start in our language we had a nice conversation with a Dutch man that works there and he was able to tell us boys windmillsmore facts about the Netherlands and was very patient with our inquisitive 5-year old who wanted to know everything about how the canals work. After the movie we walked down the row of windmills and went inside the two windmills that they have set up as museums. It was so cool! You could see all the giant gears turning and look at the recreated living spaces and imagine how it must have been to live and work in one of those windmills. My 5-year old especially loved it.

I highly recommend the windmills, and I’m sure if you go the right time of year the tulips are great too. It’s nice because you can do both in the same day, and both of these attractions are available to do on a Sunday (that’s the day of the week we went) when most other attractions/businesses are closed. They are both good, affordable family activities. You could definitely take a stroller to see the windmills if you wanted to, but you would have to leave it outside when you actually go in the windmill and you might still want to have a carrier if your baby can’t walk because there are ladders to climb to get to the top floors of the windmills.

Phew! We did a lot in three days! Next post I’ll let you know how the rest of our trip went. Leave your comments below!



Boring Sundays in Bavaria

Special Day (1)When we first moved to Hohenfels we quickly learned that everything seems to be closed on Sundays. All malls, grocery stores and local shops completely shut down. The commissary and PX were open on the Army post, but those get old real quick and soon we were left looking for other places to go on a Sunday after church. So to help everybody out, here are some kid-friendly ideas:

  1. Bavarian castle pass

This has been a lifesaver. You order the pass online and they mail it to you within about a week (use your German address if you have one to get it quickly). The pass comes with the card you show to get in castles for free and a booklet that gives a little bit of information on all the castles covered by the pass (prices, opening hours, history, etc.) and a map of where the castles are. The family pass costs €65 for a year of free castle seeing. It covers famous castles like Neuschwanstein and the Residenz in Munich, but there are tons of other castles, palaces and gardens all over Bavaria as well. Almost all of the castles are open on Sunday and many of them have tours in English.

  1. Museumsdb_museum

Most museums in Bavaria are open on Sunday and take Monday or Tuesday as their rest
day. Most of them are also free for children, which is really nice. There are so many museums in Munich and Nuremberg and they all have English options on their websites and can be found easily in a Google search, so I won’t list them here. So far our favorite was the DB train museum in Nuremberg. Museums are also great options for the 75% of the year when it is cold and snowy/rainy.

  1. Water parks

I know what you’re thinking: “but Deb, it’s Germany. Sure water parks are great when it’s warm, but how often does THAT happen in Bavaria?” Well, hold on to your socks, because I’m about to knock them off. These are indoor water parks! Woah! Almost every big city has one. The one we go to in Nuremberg has huge water slides, a wave pool, kiddie play area, restaurant, lap pool and hot tubs. Plus it’s Bavaria so of course they serve beer. It’s a great way to get your kids’ energy out any Sunday of the year.

  1. Wölpiland

This is an awesome indoor playground in Neumarkt. Tons of inflatable bouncy houses, slides, a ball pit, and a coffee/snack station. Our 2-year old and 5-year old absolutely love this place.

  1. Playmobil FunParkPlaymobil_Funpark

You could spend all day at this place. It’s basically a collection of different themed playgrounds. There’s a dinosaur world, pirate world, Noah’s ark, and all kinds of other things. They also have an indoor playground and areas where kids can play with just about every Playmobil figure ever invented. There are a few restaurants on site and there is also a water spray park if you go when it is warm enough outside to use it.

  1. Wald Wipfel Weg

This place is great for young children! There is a 30-meter-high path to walk above the WaldWipfelWegBavarian Forest and see some great views, a nature trail, playground, rock wall, cave of optical illusions, llamas, kangaroos, alpacas, an upside down house and lovely restaurant and snack bar. Nearby are some places where you can take some slides down the mountains, which would be great for older kids. This place was also stroller friendly and affordable at only 7 Euros 50 cents for adults and free for kids under 7 (which all of ours are).

  1. Hiking

If you are short on cash just go for a walk! There are so many cool nature and historical sites to see in Bavaria! Enjoy the forest paths or take a hike up to some castle ruins.

Hopefully this short list keeps you busy for a while. Please feel free to share your ideas for a boring Sunday in Bavaria in the comments section below!

 



Hohenfels Castle

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I lived five minutes from Hohenfels castle but it took me over a year to go explore the place. Part of the reason was that when I would drive through the town of Hohenfels, I just didn’t see an entry way anywhere. Most of the reason was that I just got too busy with life to look at what was right in front of me.

Most people in the world have probably never heard of Hohenfels, Germany. I know about it because I was stationed at the Army post in the town. In the town there are castle ruins that sit atop the hill that overlooks the town. There is still a huge tower that is mostly intact that you can see clearly as you drive through the town. So finally, while I was on maternity leave and had no excuse about not having the time to go up to the castle, we decided to go figure out how to get up that hill.

Capture
Red=Parking Area Yellow=Little Yellow Church Green=Castle Tower

At first I looked up online how to get to the castle, but I couldn’t find anything. There was a little information about the history of the town and castle. As it turns out the castle dates all the way back to the 1200’s! Perhaps if I knew what to search for in German, I would have been able to find more. As it was, we took the main road into the town and parked near a tiny church that looked like it was near a road that might lead up to the castle. If you are ever in Hohenfels and want to know how to get there, take the main road that goes past JMRC into Hohenfels and park in the parking lot on the right-hand side across from the little yellow church where all the glass recycling bins are. Once you’re out of your car cross the street and just walk up the road near the little church toward the castle. There is no trick or turns or anything that you have to worry about, as long as you are going up toward the castle, you’re on the right path.

We followed the little path and then we came to the castle. It is mostly just ruins, but you can walk around where the castle used to be and look at the old rock walls, stand near the tower and imagine how it must have been to build something so huge and high up so many years ago, and enjoy a great view of the town of Hohenfels. It really is beautiful, especially in the spring when the flowers are blooming or in the few weeks of fall when the leaves are all different colors. After you are done taking in the sights it is  just a short walk to the center of town where you can grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants.

This was a good family activity. It’s free, so that’s always awesome. The walk was not bad at all. Even with little kids it took us about 10 minutes to get to the top from the parking lot. The only caveat is that this is not stroller friendly and you need to hold on to your kids while you’re up on the castle because it is literally on a cliff. We had the baby in the carrier and kept hold of our two boy’s hands at all times and did fine. Happy hiking!



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