Taking in the Tulips at Keukenhof with Kids – Round 2

Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower GardensTravelers (and especially travel bloggers) often talk about a bucket list, that sacred scribbling of places, formal or informal, to see and things to do before they kick the proverbial bucket.

But, what happens when you plan, scheme, and save in order to make one of those dream trips true… and then it wasn’t what you expected?

Well, that’s exactly what happened to me when we showed up at Keukenhof Gardens last year and didn’t see a single tulip poking up from the ground. The only blooms to behold thrived inside pavilions or shivered outside in the chilly late winter breeze.

And those gorgeous photos featuring miles of flower fields we all see floating around the internet every spring? Nothing but mounds of dirt with a reluctant fingers of green to mark where vibrant blooms should be.

These things should not be so.Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower Gardens

Flowers are fickle, though, and one cannot control the weather nor their time of arrival. So, I had to make a choice: live with the disappointment and be satisfied with Pinterest pictures, or visit Keukenhof again.

While the decision was obvious, how to get there and when to go certainly wasn’t. You see, the single most important tip when visiting Keukenhof with or without children is to time your visit correctly. Too early and the bulbs will still be sulking underground. Too late and they’ll be dying like it’s 1347.

Plus, I had the distance to consider. To drive from my house to Keukenhof takes about 7 hours. With the three amigos in the backseat, it’s impossible to do that all in one go, which means we’d have to make a weekend out of it. It seemed excessive to drag the entire family along just to indulge my flowery whim.

Solution – take the overnight train and bring one child along to lighten the load of the parent left behind.

To read more about taking the overnight train with kids, check back tomorrow!

Alpha and I arrived a bit groggy at the Schipol Airport train station after our night on the rails. We were both looking forward to this adventure together, but our hearts sank when we saw the line for the Keukenhof Express bus.

People from all over the world stood in a queue that snaked around the building. Luckily, we meet an American couple waiting just in front of us. They chattered away while the minutes ticked by. Before we knew it, we were zooming along the Dutch highway on our way to the flower fields.

Since we had been to Keukenhof before, we knew were the bathrooms were and which direction we wanted to head first. While the layout and the feel of the place was the same, something had definitely changed…

The park was alive with TULIPS!Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower Gardens

Everywhere we looked, our eyes feasted on the electric oranges, intense reds, lovely violets, bashful pinks, fierce yellows. Alpha and I bounced from one plot to another. “Look at these, Mama!” he said over and over until we just could.not.look.any.more.Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower GardensThrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower GardensThrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower GardensThis year, we didn’t buy any fresh stroopwaffels at the big Keukenhof windmill, but we did go up inside to have a look. To our delight, many of the flower fields were still in bloom! Swaths of color planted neatly next to each other created a rainbow ribbon that stretched across the horizon.Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower Gardens

When tulip overload set in, we exited the park and headed for the bike rental shack. A few too many euros and two rickety bikes later, we set out to make our own tour of the flower fields.Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower Gardens

Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower GardensWe rode on country roads, swerving away from semis and loaded tour buses, pausing every few minutes to snap photos of the breathtaking beauty. The wind whipped our faces and gnarled our hair, but we didn’t care. We were sailing through the Dutch countryside on two wheels, together.Thrifty Travel Mama | More Tips for Taking Kids to Keukenhof Flower Gardens

With my bucket list wish successfully fulfilled, we headed back to Amsterdam to kill four hours before our return train. I treated the boy to American-style frozen yogurt and a Dutch pancake dinner. We stopped off at the grocery store to stock up on some supermarket souvenirs: peanut butter, speckaloos cookies, hagleslag, and Haribo licorice.

The rain began as the sun disappeared, a slight drizzle that had us running for Centraal station. Just when we stepped inside, the drops became larger until the full fury of a Dutch downpour released.

As the train pulled away from Amsterdam, Alpha waved goodbye to an amazing day and snuggled into his berth for the long ride home.

Would you revisit one of your bucket list destinations if it wasn’t what you expected?

Practical info:

  • Keukenhof is only open March through May. For 2015 dates and ticket prices, click here.
  • In 2013, we visited at the end of March – too early. In 2014, we visited the week of Easter – perfect. Try to time your visit a few days before the Flower Parade, or go during the Flower Parade if you don’t mind the masses.
  • To read about our visit with the Easter Bunny and encounter with an Easter lamb, click here for my previous post.

More bloggers with Keukenhof + kids posts:

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The Absolute Best Thing Our Family Did in Paris.. This Time Around

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with KidsPhoto Credit

Ahh, Paris. Gorgeous, amazing, one-of-a-kind, and yet.. overdone. Doesn’t everybody have a Top 10 Things to Do in Paris (with Kids) list?

I can’t bring myself to write anything so run-of-the-mill for you. But, even if I could, the entire post would be a big, fat, whopping lie because we likely did not do 8 of the 10 things on our trip.

Instead, let’s focus on a few more relaxed, out of the way, low-key, winter-appropriate Parisian experiences. I’ll still dish on the good, the bad, and the beautiful… I just won’t wrap it all up put a “Top 10” bow on it.

Forgive me.

Forgive me?

Bouncing Around Paris – on a Bike!

Given our family’s love of the outdoors and the smashing success of our day out in Lucca last summer, I was determined to find a way to incorporate seeing Paris by bicycle.

We cycle daily around our little German town, and we love it. Who can argue with built-in exercise, no traffic jams, and zero emissions?

Lucky for us, Paris has established herself as a beacon to bike-friendliness. The city boasts the third-largest bike sharing program in the world (only two cities in China have ‘er beat) and the bike traffic lanes to support it. Unfortunately for us, the Vélib’ public bicycles are not designed for young children or parents toting babies.

The Company – Bike About Tours

Enter Bike About Tours, a recommendation from Rick Steves. While the company was technically closed for the winter, I still received prompt emails from Katharine. The prices seemed fair, the details convenient, and away we booked.

When we picked up the bicycles near the Hotel de Ville, Doc Sci chatted up the co-owner and realized he knew the other co-owner from high school! (Insert “small world” cliché here.)Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

The other thing we discovered when picking up the bikes were the variety of options for families. We ended up sticking to traditional three-speed bikes with child seats, but that didn’t stop Doc Sci and Screech from testing out a spiffy Dutch tandem that could accommodate one adult and two children. Sweet ride – but not the best idea when you’re unfamiliar with the equipment and the territory.

The Route

After a hearty handshake, we were off! Across the Pont d’Arcole, we slipped past the imposing Notre Dame before crossing the Seine once again and settling in on the Left Bank.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

We struggled to keep our eyes on the road (and the ever-changing bike lanes – yikes!) and not on the gorgeous landmarks whizzing by: Pont Neuf, Pont des Arts, the Louvre, the Orsay, Pont Alexandre III, Palais Bourbon, Quai Branly… on and on the eye candy taunted us until the object of everyone’s affection slipped into view and established herself on center stage.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

So many people claim that the best view of Paris is from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I disagree. I think Paris without the Eiffel Tower is just another skyline, and how can the tower define the landscape if you’re standing on it?

For me, the better view is from the underbelly up. Stand squarely underneath Eiffel’s creation to appreciate the sheer mass of the structure. This is no girly trinket. It might have feminine frills, but the bones are literally ironclad.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

After scraping our jaws off the ground, we zipped over to a neighborhood pizzeria to pick up a mediocre pie that we promptly devoured on a bench in front of the iron lady herself. Terrible food, gorgeous company.

We gave the cycling legs a break at the Champ de Mars playground where we heard mostly English spoken (expat hangout?) before zooming off toward the Army Museum. We were having too much fun on two wheels to pay for a look at Napoleon’s tomb.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

I had high hopes for a walk in the sculpture garden at the Rodin Museum (surely my boys could handle that?!), but Big Foot spoiled our plans by falling asleep. We were forced to continue pedaling or face the wrath of an overtired baby.

Instead, I dipped in to La Maison du Chocolat where the only thing I could afford was a to-go cup brimming with soupified hot chocolate. Hello, delicious! The truffles are handled like pearls here, and the prices are about the same. Watch your wallets, folks.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

Wearing our cocoa mustaches proud, we rode until we hit the big-time Boulevard Saint Germain. The day was wearing thin, and our nerves followed suit.  We stopped for another kid-friendly break at a small playground in front of the Musée de Cluny.

Had I not been so tired, I would’ve realized we were but a stone’s throw from Luxembourg Gardens and the fabulous playgrounds there. Ah, well, our small male army seemed satisfied with the paltry pre-fab, and Doc Sci and I amused ourselves by debating whether the sentry next to the free toilet was there to protect the paper or the people. Now, there’s a candidate for world’s weirdest job – waste watcher.

The day waned further, and we realized our bikes were not outfitted with lights (a major no-no in Germany). We rallied the troops and rounded out the day with a leisurely ride through the Île Saint-Louis and the Île de la Cité.

In case no one in history has ever told you, Paris is gorgeous at dusk.

With the bikes tucked safely back in their parking garage, we trudged back to our apartment knowing we’d have to spend the next days on foot. Paris really is better by bicycle.

Practical Tips

Just a few logistical notes…

  • We rented two adult bikes with seats attached for Screech (4) and Big Foot (1). We felt confident in T-Rex’s cycling abilities, so we rented a children’s bike for him.
  • In hindsight, it would’ve been better to rent a tandem (this kind – and yes, Bike About had one) because the bike lanes were somewhat different than what we’re used to in Germany.
  • Many roads have dedicated bike lanes and paths. However, in the absence of such a lane, bikes may use the bus/taxi lane. While we never felt unsafe in the bus/taxi lane, we were made well-aware of the drivers’ annoyance with cyclists in their way.
  • If you do not have children with you, I highly recommend the Vélib’ system as it is quite convenient and extremely cheap.
  • But for families who are looking for an excellent Parisian cycling experience, I would not hesitate to recommend or personally use Bike About Tours again. You can rent bikes or sign up for an actual tour. No paid advertisement here – just a good, old-fashioned friendly recommendation.

Have you discovered Paris on two wheels? Would you cycle the streets with your kids?

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Nerdy Travel Dad: The Strandbeests!!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Trave Dad - Theo Jansen StrandbeestsNerds and nerdettes, you’re not going to want to miss today’s post.  Our family personally met a famous artist/engineer in his studio on our recent BeNeLux trip!  Keep reading for the low down on our encounter with these beach creatures.

In one of those serendipitous travel research moments, my wife stumbled upon a small detail hidden in a random corner of the Dutch shoreline near The Hague.  “Theo Jansen Beach” it said.  Thinking it might be some kind of famous surfer bar, she googled it, but found something much more amazing than booze instead.  Take a look at the 2 minute video below.

Amazing, fascinating, freakish, right?  If you’re like me, you want to see these things in action.  Unfortunately, Theo Jansen didn’t have any work on the beach at the time of our trip to Holland (to find out where the beasts are, look here).

BUT, we found out from his website that anyone can visit his studio near The Hague at anytime.  No need for a wild goose chase in the Dutch countryside; the property is right off a major highway.

Theo Jansen’s workshop is atop a small hill on the side of the road (no parking, just ditch the car on the shoulder and walk up).  Just between you and me, trust me when I say that calling it a “workshop” is kinda pushing it.  The building is little more than a shack to keep Theo protected from the elements when working, and it’s piled high with projects and a case of instant soup envelopes.

This guy developed a formula for creating “new life” as he says, forms that are able to walk across the beach on their own.  A wall next to the shack contains explanations regarding  the proportions and walking motion.  Several creatures greet visitors, inviting the interested to physically experience the creatures.

The sentinels.

The sentinels.

This walking motion and the particular proportions proved to be the two key elements to creating the beasts.  Each animal has a center shaft where all the feet connect in an offset manner.  Wind powers the beasts’ movements depending on the intensity of the gusts.  Theo is now creating a process by which this wind energy can be stored in bottles so the beasts can walk even when the weather is calm.

Theo Jansen’s ultimate goal is to create a beast that can exist completely independent of human help.  He literally believes he is creating a new species of life..

T-Rex is impressed.

T-Rex is impressed.

Wanting to see these engineering wonders for ourselves, we gambled that Theo would be at his studio on the day we passed through.  The odds were in our favor, and Mr. Jansen happily greeted us when we knocked on the shack door.

The studio is littered with PVC pipe, the color of Dutch cheese.  As Theo explained, these tubes are then bent, drilled, and heated to his specifications.  Large sheets catch the wind, and recycled soda bottles capture it.

T-Rex was gaga over all the tools in the workshop, and the two of them even chatted a bit in German and English about the gadgets and gizmos lying around.

Small 3D printed Strandbeest with propeller inside the studio.

Small 3D printed Strandbeest with propeller inside the studio.

Theo really enjoyed seeing the boys faces light up as their eyes followed the movement of a tiny beast across a table.  This particular teeny tiny beast had been 3-D printed and sent to Jansen by a student which is quite impressive considering the large number of moving parts needed to make the thing work.

Instead of being outraged that others are printing his work, Theo is delighted.  In fact, he considers this the method of beast reproduction.  These clever creatures use humans to multiply their species.

After seeing the little ones in Theo’s workshop I must admit I really want one (Father’s Day – hint, hint!).  Apparently, I have good company in my admiration for these marvels.  Adam Savage has also developed quite an affinity for them.

Outside the workshop, we tested some beasts with our own hands.  From pushing and pulling a few little guys around the hilltop, I can only imagine what the full-scale beasts look like in person scurrying along the sand and splashing in the waves.

Father and son geek out time.

Father and son geek out time.

I wished we could have stayed and talked the genius Jansen’s ear off, but T-Rex was cold, Screech wanted a snack, and we couldn’t push our luck with a sleeping Big Foot.

Would I go visit Theo Jansen’s studio again?  You betcha.  I hope Mr. Jansen is still around when my boys are old enough to understand the engineering and design principles behind these creations.  Science + Art = always a winner in our traveling family’s book!

Headed to The Netherlands?  Check out our Snapshot of Amsterdam with Kids, and don’t miss a visit to the Zaanse Schans – Nerdy Travel Dad approved!

Nerdy Travel Dad: Visiting Zaanse Schans in Holland with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Zaanse Schans, Holland.My absolute favorite thing about traveling as a family is the ability to visit the same destination but experience it through the lenses of our different and unique personalities.  I (obviously) blog about what interests me in a new location, but I also enjoy hearing and sharing a different viewpoint every now and then.

So, I’m super excited to introduce a new feature on TTM – a series of Nerdy Travel Dad posts written by my husband, Doc Sci!  If you’re looking for a cheat sheet on the educational aspect of the places we visit as a family or if you simply care more about how things work than how they look, this Nerdy Travel Dad series is for you.  

Thanks to the popularity of WIRED magazine’s GEEKDAD and celebrities that not only embrace but promote their geekiness (hey, Adam Savage), it’s never been a better time to be a nerd.

I love traveling, but my fascination with new places differs significantly from that of my wife.  Example.. while she ogled some ridiculous bunch of fluorescent flowers at  Keukenhof, I  calculated how many times the “flower engineers” had to cross breed the tulips to achieve such spectacular color.

But, on to Holland!  When my wife told me we were going to a kitschy place outside Amsterdam to experience traditional Dutch culture, I’ll admit I was a tad bit skeptical.  However, after pulling up to the parking lot and seeing all the gigantic, old school windmills and random people walking around in wooden clogs, I decided the Zaanse Schans could be a place where my kids might actually learn something as opposed to just stuffing their faces with Gouda.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

The Zaanse Schans goes beyond typical Dutch tourism.

The Zaanse Schans goes beyond typical Dutch tourism.

On the surface, the Zaanse Schans is a typical tourist destination where one can part with their euros in exchange for souvenirs and snacks.  Shops making clogs and cheese, a bakery, a smattering of museums and several windmills dot the landscape.

But, look more closely and you’ll see that many of the buildings at the Zaanse Schans (hereafter known as ZS, because scientists like acronyms) have open areas where visitors can learn and observe the old ways.  Educational opportunities abound. 

Get smart.  Leave your pram at home.

Get smart. Leave your pram at home.

However, before I get to the nerdy stuff, here are a few practicalities my wife is insisting I include..

  • Admission to the park and many of the buildings is free, though some do charge a small fee (including all windmills).  Choose your own adventure by only paying to go in one or two, or purchase a combination ticket covering all the Zaanse Schans attractions.
  • Parking is 7,50 euro for the day.
  • Strollers should be left behind if at all possible.  It’s difficult to maneuver prams over the bridges, and many of the shops are too small to accommodate buggies.
  • Toilets are NOT free.  Each visit costs 50 cents, so go easy on the coffee!  Bring coins, because change will be given in 50 cent increments.  You don’t want to break a 20 here…
  • Changing tables for babies are located in the restroom near the entrance, but not the one near the back of the park.
  • The area is windy and chilly, so dress appropriately.
  • Dining options include the pancake house (fun but pricey), the restaurant (outrageous), and quick snacks/drinks sold in the windmills.

The absolute highlight of ZS is the collection of windmills.  All of the windmills charge an admission fee, but the spice mill has an area on the bottom floor that one can visit free of charge.  Since we had already been up inside a windmill at Keukenhof, I decided to gauge the boys’ interest in the spice mill before coughing up the money to visit the rest of the mills.

Windmills!!

Windmills!!

The main thing I tried to communicate to T-Rex and Screech was the idea that wind can be used to help us do work.  The spice mill interior is not set up to show how the big sails up top are connected and moving the cogs and wheels down below.  It is my understanding that the windmill innards are visible from the admission area.  Regardless, older children will be able to visualize the basic engineering principles of torque, rotation, and interconnection.

Text

The Spice Mill.

Get the wheels in little heads turning by asking questions such as… How can a vertically rotating rod can be connected in such a way to move things horizontally?  Why are such big sails needed?  Why do the small cogs move so much faster than the big cogs?

Unfortunately, Screech and T-Rex are a little too young (ages 3 and 5) to really engage in these topics.  While in the mill, T-Rex was more interested in a spice trading map with a blinking light that moved along the worldwide routes.  Still educational, but not exactly what I had in mind.  I tried to give him a quick rundown regarding the technology of the LEDs that made that map possible… but to no avail.  He just wanted to push the buttons.

We then moved on to something more up my boys’ alley – food.  The ZS cheese shop offers a five-minute presentation on how cheese is made.  Unfortunately, the man in costume talked WAY too fast, and we were herded like cattle into the store immediately after the talk.

(Tip: don’t buy your cheese at the Zaanse Schans.  If you like a particular variety, jot down the name, and then search for it in a nearby supermarket.  For more Dutch supermarket souvenirs, click here.)

The Cheese Master.  Free sample, anyone?

The Cheese Master. Free sample, anyone?

Surprisingly, Screech and T-Rex were both quite interested in how one of their favorite snacks is made.  Since I wasn’t able to answer all their questions during the presentation (and you won’t be able to either), here’s a quick version for the kiddos you can probably memorize or pull up on your smartphone.  Oh and if you want to sound super smart, make sure to call it biotechnology.

In order to make cheese, you need milk.  Then…

  1. Curdle the milk.
  2. Separate the whey (liquid).
  3. Press the solid curds into a mold.
  4. Bathe the cheese in brine (salty water).
  5. Mature for a period of time; the longer the wait, the more intense the flavor.

See here for more big words, and a few cheesy videos.

The Zaanse Schans cheese display.

The Zaanse Schans cheese display.

Moving on to fashionable footwear… A brief display lines the entrance to the Dutch wooden shoe shop, demonstrating the process of making a log into a clog.  Don’t miss this!  It’s an excellent way to introduce your children to low-tech tools and encourage them to look for new uses (clogs) for ordinary items (logs).

Get your souvenir photos in the gigantic wooden clogs before going inside to learn how these Dutch shoes are made.

Get your souvenir photos in the gigantic wooden clogs before going inside to learn how these Dutch shoes are made.

Parents of young children, take note!  There is an open section in the clog shop that’s chock full of fascinating sharp objects that Screech thought were part of the experience.  While we weren’t looking, he slipped under the loose rope and started making his own.  Okay, not quite, but a few more seconds and he would’ve had new shoes.. or needed stitches.

The Zaanse Schans wall of clogs.

The Zaanse Schans wall of clogs.

Nerds, divas, introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between will enjoy trying on the various clogs for sale.  A plethora of sizes and styles are available, just come prepared to pay in case your little one won’t part with his new fashion statement.

Unknowingly, we both picked the same pair of clogs to try on.  Props to T-Rex for taking this photo.

Unknowingly, my wife and I both picked the same pair of clogs to try on. Props to T-Rex for taking this photo.

Despite my initial skepticism, I am giving the Zaanse Schans the Nerdy Travel Dad seal of approval.  Should you and your posse find themselves in Amsterdam, take a short detour to the north for a dose of Dutch culture and historical technology.  Or, just come for the windmill pictures.  Whatever.

Headed to Amsterdam?  Check out our Snapshot of Amsterdam with Kids, and don’t miss a visit to the Kinderkookkafe!

Supermarket Souvenirs – The Netherlands

Thrifty Travel Mama | Supermarket Souvenirs - The NetherlandsWondering what to buy from the Netherlands for the folks back home?  You could get one of those kitschy wooden shoe magnets (no judgement if that’s your thing).  Or, you could wow them with one of these supermarket souvenirs!

Thrifty Travel Mama - Supermarket Souvenirs, The NetherlandsFirst up, Dutch cheese!  Okay, in reality, you probably can’t stuff this into your suitcase and expect it to be edible when you get home.  But, it’s worth sampling some of the varieties while in country.

If you like a strong flavor and firm texture, aged Gouda is the way to go!  You could buy name brands like Old Amsterdam or just look for a store brand with the words Oud Gouda.  They’re just as tasty but at a fraction of the price.

Budget traveler tip: Instead of buying the cheese at touristy places like the Zaanse Schans, sample the more affordable varieties at the local grocery store.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Supermarket Souvenirs, The NetherlandsIf you only have space for one supermarket souvenir, make it stroopwaffels.  I first discovered these bad boys in 2003, and I’ve been in love ever since.  Stroopwaffels are yummy straight out of the bag, but they’re downright unforgettable when warm.

Make a cup of tea or coffee and set the stroopwaffel on top of the rim to catch the steam.  After a few minutes, flip to warm the other side.  Don’t wait too long though!  Sometimes the stroopwaffel will become so soft that it can plop down into your hot and tasty beverage.  Devour while hot and gooey.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Supermarket Souvenirs, The NetherlandsThis isn’t for your suitcase – it’s for enjoying in your hotel room or vacation rental while in country.  Stroopwaffel ice cream can be found a most grocery stores.  I’ve even seen comments online suggesting that this flavor can be found in ice cream shops across Holland.  (And, uh, yeah, that container is totally empty!)

Thrifty Travel Mama - Supermarket Souvenirs, The NetherlandsGrocery stores are the budget traveler’s place to buy souvenirs that locals would give to each other or send to relatives.  For adorable Dutch tins filled with stroopwaffels, stroopkoeken, chocolate, etc., check the nearest Albert Heijn.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Supermarket Souvenirs, The NetherlandsSpeaking of chocolate, Tony’s Chocolonely is a GIGANTIC chocolate bar with a cause: “on the way to 100% slavery-free chocolate.”  You can read more about their mission here.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Supermarket Souvenirs, The NetherlandsBlack licorice is big-time in the Netherlands.  You can find all kinds of crazy varieties from salted to sweet to sugared.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Supermarket Souvenirs, The NetherlandsYou might think black licorice is weird, but that’s just because you haven’t heard of Hagelslag yet!  Basically, it’s chocolate sprinkles that Dutch people sprinkle on their toast.  And by Dutch people I mean adults.  And by toast I mean a sandwich at lunch time.  Don’t believe me?  Read more here.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Supermarket Souvenirs, The NetherlandsThis last one’s just for the expats or the peanut butter-obsessed or the expats obsessed with peanut butter.  Peanut butter is not only cheap in the Netherlands (well, compared to Germany anyway), it also tastes a whole lot better.  It’s not 100% natural, but it doesn’t have hydrogenated oils in it (at least from what my pal Google Translate says).  Look for a high peanut content (aim for 90%), and chow down!

What are your favorite supermarket souvenirs from the Netherlands?  Anything I missed?

Headed to Amsterdam?  Check out our Snapshot of Amsterdam with Kids, and don’t miss a visit to the Kinderkookkafe!Signature-Marigold

Visiting the Kinderkookkafé in Amsterdam

The Kinderkookkafe, where kids are the star of the meal.

The Kinderkookkafe, where kids are the star of the meal.

I live with a five year-old aspiring chef.  T-Rex constantly asks me if he can help cook dinner, bake a cake, make pizza, etc.  His kindergarten allows children to prepare a meal every Wednesday for the whole class, and it’s rather dramatic if he can’t participate.  So when I heard about the Kinderkookkafé in Amsterdam, I knew we had to go!

The Kinderkookkafé is a unique cafe in Amsterdam where children run the show.  Each child selects what he or she would like to eat, prepares the dish, helps place it in the oven (if applicable), serves the food, and cleans up afterward.

The cafe hosts cooking classes and birthday parties on weekends.  The children congregate in the open kitchen for instruction and then play while the food bakes.

The cafe hosts cooking classes and birthday parties on weekends. The children congregate in the open kitchen for instruction and then play while the food bakes.

Menu choices include lunch items such as ham and cheese croissants, open face sandwiches, and pizza to desserts like cupcakes and cookies to simpler snacks of carrot and cucumber cut-outs.

Standard menu choices are pictured, but daily specials are written on the blackboard.

Standard menu choices are pictured, but daily specials are written on the blackboard.  The top photos represent the finished product, and the bottom photos help children to select all the required ingredients.

Both of my boys chose to make pizzas.  The menu card showed what items they needed to collect from the self-serve area to create their meal.  With dough, sauce, cheese, vegetables, flour, rolling pin, and pan in hand, they got to work.

First step - smear liquid butter all over the pizza pan.  Really.

First step – smear liquid butter all over the pizza pan. Really.

T-Rex and Screech had a blast doing everything themselves.  Doc Sci observed that the hardest part about a visit to the Kinderkookkafé is actually letting the kids do everything themselves.  Perfectionists will squirm when their child puts all of the cheese in one spot and doesn’t cut up the bell pepper.  Not that I know anything about that…

Ready to bake!

Ready to bake!

I must say that there’s not a whole lot to entertain the little ones while their food bakes.  I noticed a stack of books and a table with paper and colored pencils.  In warmer weather, the children could play outside in the little attached playground.

The cooked pizzas were rather crispy (food safety?), but neither of my boys noticed or cared.  It didn’t take long for the chefs to devour their masterpieces.

Food prices are reasonable; the pizzas cost about €3,50 each and most other dishes cost less than that.  I assume that the cafe makes most of its money from adult refreshments (coffee, cake, etc.).

Bathroom cleanliness was questionable.  The sinks were rather stopped up from all the dough bits washed off of little hands.  T-Rex almost overflowed the basin.  Let’s hope the staff uses separate facilities and keeps the kitchen cleaner than the restroom.

The staff members spoke English and were happy to answer all of my first-timer questions.  When I was mixing up a bottle for Big Foot, one of the women working there walked over and offered to warm it up for me.

The Kinderkookkafé concept is brilliant, and it’s obvious that the place has had great success.  I highly recommend stopping here for a meal or even just a snack when visiting Amsterdam with kids.

Have you been to the Kinderkookkafé?  If you had the opportunity, would you enjoy going to a restaurant where your children prepared and served the food?

Headed to Amsterdam?  Check out our Snapshot of Amsterdam with Kids, and don’t miss a visit to Keukenhof Flower Gardens!Signature-Marigold

Snapshot: Amsterdam with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Amsterdam with KidsNo BeNeLux itinerary would be complete without a stop in Amsterdam.  Doc Sci and I have been to the city before, so I thought it would be fun to incorporate some kid-friendly activities this time.

I’ll outline our day in this post, but several of the activities deserve their own separate space.  Look for more complete reviews of specific attractions in the coming days.Thrifty Travel Mama - Amsterdam with Kids9:30am – Hop on a bus headed to Amsterdam from our home base in Haarlem.  Since we planned to walk everywhere that day, we decided the boys should have something to keep them interested and minimize “are we there yet” complaining.  T-Rex rode his scooter and Screech toured Amsterdam on his laufrad (balance bike).

I gotta get me one of those!

I gotta get me one of those!

We opted for the pram instead of the backpack carrier for Big Foot.  Was this the right choice?  It’s hard to say.  There are sidewalks in Amsterdam, but most of them are narrow and made of stone.  The hardest part was keeping the whole circus (pram, scooter, balance bike + two adults) somewhat together on the sidewalks.  But 10 hours is a long time to carry a baby and Big Foot sleeps better on the go when he’s in the pram.

Solution: If you can, do as the Dutch and rent a bakfiets for the day!

10:15am – Arrive in southwest Amsterdam and plot a walking course to our first stop.  Upon arriving at the bus station, we noticed one of Amsterdam’s public urinals.  Did we try it?  To quote the oft-sold saying, “What happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam.”

Free public urinal at the bus station.

Free public urinal at the bus station.

11:00am – Pop in to the most anticipated stop of the day, the Kinderkookkafe!  This place is (obviously) designed just for kids, and it’s awesome.  All the food is made by the kids themselves!  The boys put together pizzas while Doc Sci and I downed some delicious Dutch cheese sandwiches we had brought and drank tea to warm up (did I mention it was blowing snow when we left Haarlem that morning?).

The Kinderkookkafe, where kids are the star of the meal.

The Kinderkookkafe, where kids are the star of the meal.

12:30pm – Take a walk through Vondelpark, the most beautiful park in Amsterdam.  The place was hopping with tourists and locals alike.  Our favorite feature of the park was the multilingual lost and found.

Lost a glove in Vondelpark?  Check here.

Lost a glove in Vondelpark? Check here.

1:00pm – Shop at HEMA, the discounter (think Target) known for its Dutch design and reasonable prices.  We drank hot chocolate at the cafe which has an IKEA restaurant feel.  HEMA is a great place for budget travelers to stock up on unique souvenirs (we found a fun Netherlands puzzle for 4 euros) or any travel necessities you might have run out of or forgotten.  If you don’t love HEMA, it’s because you just don’t know it yet!

Knocking back hot chocolate at HEMA.

Knocking back hot chocolate at HEMA.

2:30pm – Hit up Kitsch Kitchen Supermercado for whimsical gifts and home items.  As luck would have it, the store was having an Easter egg decorating contest.  My boys were thrilled to be able to sit down and paint hard boiled eggs while I browsed the shelves.  I big fat puffy heart LOVE serendipitous events!

Painting Easter eggs at Kitsch Kitchen.

Painting Easter eggs at Kitsch Kitchen.

3:30pm – Get lost in a parade of clothing from past eras at Episode Vintage Doc Sci is always looking for quality denim in his size, and I can go for a fun peasant top any day.. as long as it fits me.  Alas, we didn’t find anything that day.  If you’re looking for cheap clothing, this is not the place.  Shopping at Episode Vintage is for those seeking one-of-a-kind or nostalgic pieces.

Piles of surprisingly organized vintage clothing.

Piles of surprisingly organized vintage clothing.

5:00pm – Order savory enchiladas and tasty tacos at Los Pilones If you’ve hung around Thrifty Travel Mama for long, you know that I’m always on the hunt for authentic Mexican food in Europe.  When I discovered that Los Pilones sells its own bottled chipotle sauce, I knew this was THE place to go for Mexican food in Amsterdam.  Yeah, buddy!

An enchilada end to our day in Amsterdam.

An enchilada end to our day in Amsterdam.

6:30pm – Catch the bus back to Haarlem.  We munched on stroopkoeken (Dutch syrup cookies) all the way home.  What an exhausting but enjoyable day!

Bye, bye Amsterdam - next time we'll have to get around by water taxi!

Bye, bye Amsterdam – next time we’ll have to get around by water taxi!

Have more than one day in Amsterdam?  Here’s what I would’ve added:

  • NEMO Science Center – Admission is expensive, but the place looks bonkers cool.  Plan to spend at least a half day to get your money’s worth.
  • The Dutch Riding School – It’s free to poke your head in and take a look at the riding classes.
  • Albert Cuyp Market – The largest street market in the Netherlands.  I also stumbled upon a tip that there’s a vendor selling fresh stroopwaffels on Saturdays!
  • De Kaaskamer – A store dedicated to Dutch cheese.
  • Pancakes! – Serving up every kind of pancake imaginable from blini to crepes to American-style flapjacks.
  • The Pancake Boat – For a two-in-one experience, the pancake boat offers all you can eat pancakes while cruising around the Amsterdam harbor area.
  • De Taart van m’n Tante – A super funky cake shop.
  • Bierfabrik – A restaurant specializing in organic, charcoal-grilled Cornish game hens.  Eat with your hands, and get to know your neighbor!
  • Le Pain Quotidien – Excellent choice for breakfast or lunch.  Think Panera gone all French.
  • Bagels & Beans – Perhaps not as exciting to US travelers, but expats craving bagels (Einstein Bros or otherwise) will love this place.  In addition to coffee (hence the beans), this chain brews loose leaf tea.

Have you been to Amsterdam with kids?  Did I miss any fun places that little ones would’ve enjoyed?Signature-Marigold

Visiting Keukenhof Flower Gardens with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama Keukenhof with KidsSpending Easter Sunday dilly dallying among the tulips at the famous Keukenhof gardens in Holland… sounds like a dream, right?  And it was, except my dreams didn’t include icy wind and late winter weather, but my reality did.  Nevertheless, don’t let my unfortunate timing dismay you – visiting Keukenhof is an amazing experience even under less than stellar circumstances.

Thrifty Travel Mama Keukenhof with KidsA few notes on visiting Keukenhof with kids… Of all the places we visited on our trip to BeNeLux, our time at Keukenhof was the least stressful (full disclosure: it was also the most expensive!).  The gardens are well-planned with wide, flat, paved walkways and several sets of (clean – and free) restrooms with changing tables located throughout the park.

Thrifty Travel Mama Keukenhof with KidsThe gardens at Keukenhof are extensive, offering enough to keep young, old, and even tired eyes interested for hours.  If tulips aren’t your thing (wait, is that even possible?!), you can find orchids, hydrangeas, crocuses, hyacinth, and a zillion other flower varieties in the pavilions.  And, might I add that even though I visited Keukenhof with my very manly husband and three rambunctious boys, I received no comments or complaints about it being “too girly.”

More than just tulips!

More than just tulips!

My boys loved the playground with its zip line, swings, slides, and structures for climbing.  I was impressed by the variety of play equipment, suitable for a wide range of ages.  We brought our own lunch and munched away at the picnic tables located right on the playground.

View from the Keukenhof windmill.

View from the Keukenhof windmill – no tulips peeking up from the ground.

Perhaps even more than the awesome playground, T-Rex and Screech really enjoyed going inside the old Dutch windmill on the property.  It provides an excellent view of the fields at Keukenhof and beyond.

Giant, fresh stroopwaffels!

Giant, fresh stroopwaffels!

At the base of the windmill, two ladies were serving up giant, hot-off-the-press stroopwaffels.  More about stroopwaffels here, but in case you are craving the experience of tasting a fresh stroopwaffel like we were, I might as well tell you that the packaged ones are just as good as the fresh kind if you warm them up.  Oh, right, and the packages are much cheaper if you buy them at the grocery store rather than at Keukenhof.

The bald eagle, waiting for his big entrance.

The bald eagle, waiting for his big entrance.

We were pleasantly surprised by two things at Keukenhof: the Birds of Prey show and the petting zoo.  The Birds of Prey show featured a Red-tailed Hawk and a Bald Eagle as well as a large owl (sorry, I didn’t catch the exact species).  Several members of the audience were allowed to don a heavy leather glove while the handler invited the owl to fly from arm to arm.  My boys had never seen such large birds up close before.

Easter lamb!

Easter lamb!

Doc Sci and I were delighted to discover a spotless Easter lamb in the petting zoo.  He hovered close to his mama, but graciously let little fingers and palms caress his soft wool while goats, cows, and chickens milled in the background.  Getting to touch the animals was thrilling for the little boys, but the symbolism of the lamb was a highlight of our Easter Sunday visit.

The Easter Bunny!

The Easter Bunny!

And, speaking of Easter, T-Rex had been asking me for weeks when we were going to see the Easter Bunny and get some Easter eggs.  I kept saying we’d have to look for him on Easter, all the while knowing that the rabbit himself was scheduled to make an appearance at Keukenhof that day.  The look on T-Rex’s face when he almost ran smack dab into the Easter Bunny was priceless, and I think he almost went into shock when the rabbit offered him an actual Easter egg!

Easter eggs - European style.  No plastic or candy here.

Easter eggs – European style. No plastic or candy here.

While I truly was disappointed by the lack of tulips in the fields outside (darn you late winter!), I still enjoyed my visit to Keukenhof.  Weather is always a gamble, but a memorable visit can be guaranteed with the right attitude (and season-appropriate clothing!).

This year's flower scene - Big Ben - had barely even sprouted.  So sad.

This year’s flower scene – Big Ben – had barely even sprouted. So sad.

p.s. – Keukenhof is only open two months of the year.  Because of that, the crowds are insane.  My advice?  Get there early – like, 8am early.  Head straight for the pavilions (don’t miss the Willem-Alexander Pavilion!) before the hordes of tour buses loaded with people show up.

For more advice on when to go, a bit of history, and why tulips are so important to the Netherlands, click here.

And now, a smattering of photos from our time at Keukenhof…

A visit to Keukenhof starts at this organ, playing silly tunes.  CDs for sale!

A visit to Keukenhof starts at this organ, playing silly tunes. CDs for sale!

The Willem-Alexander Pavilion was awash with color.

The Willem-Alexander Pavilion awash with color.

I loved discovering varieties of tulips I had never seen before.  These GIGANTIC red ones were my favorite.

I loved discovering varieties of tulips I had never seen before. These GIGANTIC red ones were my favorite (three year-old hands shown for scale).

Can you believe these are tulips?

Can you believe these are tulips?

Thrifty Travel Mama Keukenhof with Kids

And these are, too!

Check out the frizz..

Check out the frizz..

The fringe..

The fringe..

The spikes!

The spikes!

Splendid!

Splendid!

Not quite as big as my favorite red ones..

Not quite as big as my favorite red ones..

Just to compare, let's have another look..

Just to compare, let’s have another look..

"Regular" red ones.

More red!

Whoa..

Whoa..

So many shades of pink.

So many shades of pink.

Can you choose a favorite?

Can you choose a favorite?

Radiant hydrangeas..

Radiant hydrangeas..

Prom and proper daffodils.

Prim and proper daffodils.

These little teensy things were Doc Sci's favorite.

These little teensy things were Doc Sci’s favorite (thanks to Screech for hand modeling).

Only two flowers had bloomed.  These purple beauties..

Only two flowers had bloomed outside. These blue-purple beauties..

.. and these yellow ones.

.. and these yellow ones.

Maybe as a concession for the flowers not peeking out yet, the walkways were lined with tulips in crates.  Not exactly the same as having the fields full...

Maybe as a concession for the flowers not peeking out yet, the walkways were lined with tulips in crates. Not exactly the same as having the fields full…

If you want to bring some wooden tulips home with you, buy them elsewhere!  We saw these at a store in Brugge (you can also buy them at the Zaanse Schans for this price).  At Keukenhof, EACH wooden tulip was 3,50!

If you want to bring some wooden tulips home with you, buy them elsewhere! We saw these at a store in Brugge (you can also buy them at the Zaanse Schans for this price). At Keukenhof, EACH wooden tulip was 3,50!

Thanks for looking!  Have you been to Keukenhof?  I’d love to hear about your adventure!

Love tulips?  Here’s another post with a visual tour of our visit to the Thanksgiving Point Tulip Festival in Lehi, Utah!

Signature-Marigold