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. We 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
We 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 a 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 not 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 more 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!