So here we were, all eight of us, finally in Amsterdam. Tired, jetlagged, cold, and did I mention tired? We’d flown roughly 24 hours and managed to completely mess up our sleep/wake cycles. So what was 4pm actually felt more like 2am. Not to worry, we knew this would happen, so we all did our best at treating each other gently, got a few early nights and readjusted.
My family is Dutch, generations upon generations back as far as I know of, on both sides of the family. So coming back felt a little bit like visiting home. The people felt familiar, the scenery lit up long forgotten memories from my childhood and the language came back, first in a trickle and then finally flooding back to the point where, weeks later, I would even be speaking Dutch in my sleep. (I asked Paul what I said, but sadly he can’t understand Dutch so couldn’t tell me….)
I knew that the children wouldn’t feel the same bond with the place, but that didn’t stop us from showing them as much of their heritage as we could, and sowing the seeds of new memories for them. First stop, Amsterdam. We stumbled upon a palace, so popped in to see if the King and Queen were home, turns out they weren’t.
Fun fact; the Dutch are officially the tallest race on the planet, which was quite a contrast to the Singaporeans who, well, aren’t. This guy in particular was not much of a conversationalist, but he was VERY good at the staring game.
Mirror selfie stop.
Old art. Generally I love it. Such incredible attention to detail and amazing history. Sometimes, I’m just going to come out and say it, it’s just plain weird. Check this one out, the longer you look at this painting, the weirder it gets. From the dude with the bad hair day, to that chick with the fluffy lion legs. What, even?
In Holland, people use bikes. A lot. I would hazard a guess that there are more bikes on the roads than there are vehicles. You don’t even need to wear a helmet! It is imperative that you keep these cyclists in mind when you’re navigating your way around the city.
To be honest, it’s a lot safer watching the city from a tram. You’re much less likely to be hit by a bike.
Don’t forget that you can get around by water too. Some years ago, the Dutch told the sea to back off a bit and give them a little more space. With a little bit of coaxing, the water became dry land and Holland was left with these amazing canals which are regularly enjoyed by the locals. See that windmill there? That’s a totally legitimate Dutch windmill.
This one is also legitimately Dutch, but a more modern version.
While we didn’t really want to come across like tourists, sometimes we really couldn’t help ourselves…
We even visited a real Dutch cheese maker. She was tucked away on a little island surrounded by canals, we were allowed to sneak out the back and have a look. You can’t be sure it’s the real deal till you’ve poked it, so it seems.
Ok, so there’s a couple of things I need to warn you about, if you’re a Kiwi traveller. There are some things you may not realise until you’re faced with them in Europe. Best you be prepared.
1. There’s no top sheets. I’m not sure how I can better explain this, except to say that they just don’t exist. There’s a bottom sheet, and then a feather duvet. No top sheet. You want a lighter option if it’s 30 degrees? Too bad.
2. The pillows are a strange shape. You know how you think all pillows are the same, more or less? Well, you’re wrong. The European pillows are large, square and flat. You can find ‘normal’ rectangular pillows if you search, really REALLY hard. Best way around it is to bring a NZ pillowcase and stuff the Europe pillow in it, then it kind of keeps it’s shape.
3. Many Dutch toilets are an odd shape, on the inside. It’s kind of like it has an inspection shelf. I don’t understand, and I think I’ll just leave the conversation about that right there.
4. Dutch washcloths are the coolest thing ever. They are more of a pouch than the flannel we’re used to. They make up for the weird toilets, but not the weird bedding.
5. No two light switches are the same, nor is the ‘on’ direction necessarily what you’d expect. Sometimes you flick up to turn the light on, sometimes you flick down. Seems they like to keep you guessing.
6. Pegs and/or a washing line. Often, no. Not sure why.
After a week in the Netherlands, we headed over to Germany, which was every bit as lovely as I remember it.
We ducked over to Cologne (which, incidentally, doesn’t smell any differently to any other European city, in case you’re wondering). This church here was super tall. Like, crazy tall. I’m pretty sure it’s the tallest church anywhere, or it used to be… clearly I should have paid more attention. Anyway, we thought we should do the only reasonable thing on a 33 degree day, and climb the 509 steps to the top. A little stop at the ancient bell to get the ‘kids in front of the bell’ picture, which was a bit of a struggle because the little ones were worried the bells would chime and that they’d be too loud. I assured them they wouldn’t chime. Turns out I was wrong. Bad, bad Mummy.
Heading further South into Germany we went to visit this incredible old castle on a hill. Very old, very cool.
There was a lot of walking to be done, and small people kept up beautifully – getting very fit, very fast. By the end of the day, though, they would charm their way into piggyback rides from any one of us willing to offer them. The taller the person, the better.
I can’t be sure it was really allowed, but there was no signs saying we weren’t to pose under the fountain. No one seemed to mind, so we went ahead and did it and moved on quickly!
At this point we were only about a third of the way through our trip, and we’d already learned so much from the people and the culture. Our tan lines were starting to appear and no one was wanting this holiday to end just yet! There were more countries and experiences to come, but that’ll have to wait for Part 3.