13 July 2013

Visitors and Amsterdam (Visitors 3.1)

We said goodbye earlier this week to our third batch of visitors - the Little Man's Grandma and Grandpa/Mark's parents. They were with us for a full two weeks and we saw a lot of Amsterdam/Haarlem, Delft/The Hague, Belgium, and Tilburg; and we have much to catch up on as far as our updates, which will come in three separate installments.

On the 24th of June, we met Grandma and Grandpa at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, made our way to our hotel room, and after a quick lunch, we hit the ground running towards the sights of Amsterdam. First our list was the Van Gogh Museum. Vincent Van Gogh is one of my personal favorite artists, and the museum is a real treat, especially with the special exhibit on now that shows the development of his work over 10 years. Van Gogh was born and lived in our area (even attending a school in what is now Tilburg's city centre), and seeing some of his work that was completed and inspired by this region is especially interesting.

Some of the excellent Van Gogh works we saw

After the Van Gogh Museum, we walked across the local park to the Rijksmuseum. The Rijksmuseum is home to thousands of pieces, including well known masterpieces like Rembrandt's Nightwatch and Vermeer's The Milkmaid. It's easy to be in awe when you're sitting in front of a highly detail piece that is hundreds of years old, and it's almost overwhelming when you consider you're surrounded by famous works. What makes the Rijksmuseum even more attractive is that it just reopened a few months ago after a 10 year renovation project that has left the museum in wonderful condition. We walked from the Rijksmuseum back toward our hotel, stopping to gawk at some notable sites along the way, and we found a great place to treat our visitors to a local (and delicious) doner kebab.

The Nightwatch (Rembrandt), the entrance to the Rijksmuseum, Queen Beatrix (Andy Warhol)

Our second day in Amsterdam was spent outside the city, in an area known as the Historische Driehoek (the Historic Triangle), with a real treat for the Little Man: a ride on a steam train. Starting in the town of Hoorn, you can take a steam train to Medemblik, and then a steam boat to Enkhuizen, where you can explore the Zuiderzeemuseum - a "back in time" outdoor museum/reconstructed village to show what life used to be like in this area of Holland. To complete the whole triangle, you really want to be on the first steam train out of Hoorn, leaving at 11:00 during the summer. Tickets for the steam train and the boat can be purchased at Hoorn in a small "station house" across the track from the regular Hoorn train station, and admission to the Zuiderzeemuseum is paid when arriving at the dock for the museum. It is worth noting that you do not have to do all three "points" of the Historische Driehoek, but it's certainly recommended for the experiences. It was a fun day of traveling "old school" and seeing life along the IJsselmeer - the largest freshwater lake in western Europe, created by building a dam, and slowly reduced in size as the land was reclaimed from the lake using pure Dutch genius and experience controlling water.

The Historische Driehoek - steam train, steam boat, and Zuiderzee

We were staying just a few blocks away from the Anne Frank House and Museum, which made visiting a whole lot easier. Any time we have been by the Anne Frank House, the line has been way too long to wait through with the Little Man, but it's one of those historic landmarks that you really feel like you should see. Without reserving a time slot in advance through the website, your best bet to avoid a line is to arrive at or just before opening time, which we did with just a 20 minute wait. The fate of the Frank family (and millions of others) is tragic, but the museum is set up in a way that you move through the house and get a sense for their life in secret without going into graphic detail about the horrors of the Holocaust. This makes going through the museum with younger kids easier because if they're not ready to have a discussion about the Holocaust/war, it's easier to talk about the individual rooms and objects and the importance of being kind to people.

The Anne Frank Museum is the large building on the right. The house in which the Frank family lived/hid is 3 buildings over to the left, with the dark doors on the ground floor.

From there, we walked to the Westerkerk, just a few buildings down the street, and then the Oudekerk, past the Central Station. Like all the grand old churches in the Netherlands, both are well maintained and beautiful inside. After viewing the churches, we walked to the Rembrandthuis, a museum within a home that Rembrandt owned, lived, and worked in for several years. Rembrandt went bankrupt and had to sell his home and all his possessions, but thanks to a detailed list of household items during the bankruptcy process, the museum has been able to furnish the house to look as it did during Rembrandt's ownership. The museum also features handy, personal audio devices (in several languages) for free with a story for each room of the house - and one is available for children to use, with engaging dialogues telling stories about Rembrandt and his house. The kids' devices are great because they also run slightly longer than the adults' devices, so parents can get a better look around the room while Junior/Juliette is still listening to the story.

Little Man and his kid-friendly listening device, the Rembrandthuis

This was the last evening we spent in Amsterdam, and we topped it off with pre-dinner snacks at a cafe with seating over a canal bridge before sampling a local pizza restaurant (complete with take-out!). The next day, we made our way to Delft and the Hague by way of Haarlem, with more historic sites - so stay tuned!

Because I love the Museumkaart, I'll provide a tally of the museumkaart benefits we received through this part of our visitors' stay. With our museumkaart, we received free admission to: Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Hoorn steam train, Medemblik steam boat, Zuiderzeemuseum, Anne Frank Museum, Oudekerk, Rembrandthuis.


  1. Ooh, so nice! I saw some Van Goghs in person a couple years ago in Chicago and it was amazing. I can't wait to finally get to Amsterdam to see more, and especially the Anne Frank museum. Good tip about the wait -- I can only imagine it can be insane. Maybe I'll go next winter... Also, for what you said about keeping it kid-friendly, I found that the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC also did that in a really great way. Where there were graphic images, they'd have a 4.5-foot (or so) wall that you'd look over, down onto the tvs or pictures to see. So, no little kids stumbling upon it by accident. That museum was amazing and we couldn't believe it'd been almost 3 hours by the time we left.

    1. I highly recommend the Van Gogh Museum - especially now with the special exhibit.

      Thanks for the tip on the Holocaust museum! I don't know when we'll next be in DC, but knowing about the wall means we wouldn't have to avoid the museum all together while Little Man is young.


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