Nearly a month has passed since our beautiful holiday week in Amsterdam... and of course, absence makes the heart grow even fonder. I've been so busy since our return to Spain that it's been tricky to find time to properly capture all of the fantastic family adventures we had in Holland... but I certainly can't move on to tell the crazy story of 'Paris and The Bedbugs' until I've done justice to Amsterdam!
Here then are the final highlights from our special week in this splendid Dutch city of canals, bicycles, beer, chocolate, pannekoeken and more! If you've ever considered taking your family abroad to Europe, Amsterdam should be at the top of your list of wonderful places to travel with children!
ICE*Amsterdam - Skating!
Amsterdam's Museumplein is a large grassy open space flanked on several sides by important national museums. It begins with the Richtsmuseum, an elegant home for beautiful art and priceless artifacts from The Netherlands throughout the past thousand years. The Aventura children and I spent an amazing day there with Abuela Luminosa in 2015, investigating its historical wooden ships, armor, jewelry, clocks, gowns, sculptures and artwork of Holland. They have a fantastic kids' tour and scavenger hunt!
Down the road a bit you'll find the Van Gogh museum which houses the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world, along with the innovative Stedelijk Museum, the small and cozy Moco, and also a diamond museum that travels throughout several buildings and covers nearly a full city block!
The grass plain in front of these museums is enormous and has wide walkways that sometimes feature artwork or musicians busking. In the summertime you can find families there picnicking. Several restaurants dot the area, including the Lunchkiosk near the art square.
The Aventura children yearned to have some fun in ice and snow this Christmas. Unfortunately for them, despite the freezing temperatures, there was zero snow during our time in Amsterdam. We were so delighted though to discover that ICE*Amsterdam hosts a fun and popular ice skating rink directly in front of the Richtsmuseum!
Newbies (like our family) pushed metal chairs along the ice to stay upright, and experienced skaters cut swift circles around them. A hockey class took place along the back side of the ice. Despite the chilly air outside, the shared joy across the ice rink was virtually palpable!
It was very refreshing in a beautiful old city to see work that felt so modern... deeply embracing contemporary themes. There is a pathos to Banksy's work... I loved his simple images of the girl with the heart balloon. We now have a print of it in our Barcelona apartment!
Moco is a smaller museum but definitely worth the euro to visit in person. There is an audio tour offered, but it is also possible to get the gist of the exhibition's message even if you don't opt for the headset. Even though there aren't a huge number of works displayed, the ones that have been selected for viewing are very powerful and worth your effort.
The Stedelijk Museum is a wonderfully large space with plenty of room for multiple big exhibitions of modern artwork. Their permanent collection contains colorful works by Matisse, Kandinsky and Mondrian among many others.
We've spent a decent amount of time inside its walls twice now. During the summer of 2015 when we enjoyed a phenomenal Matisse exhibition featuring some of his most famous and exciting works. The Scientist was so excited to see work in person that he'd studied at home in his art class.
This time we explored the Jean Tinguely 'machine spectacle' exhibition which was unlike anything I'd seen before. Tinguely's machines are not only visually intriguing but often work in surprising ways to interact with the audience, moving, shaking, making noises and more.
We learned a lot about Tinguely and his philosophy of creation from this exhibit. Señor Aventura commented several times that he seemed like one of the original "makers" (or an inspiration for Burning Man); in any case, way ahead of his time... although many of his performance pieces were actually designed to be destroyed instead of used!
Could this be the best museum in all of Amsterdam? We think yes. The Dutch Resistance Museum is a recent creation, conceived and designed to raise awareness about Holland's resistance efforts during World War II. As Americans we have grown up hearing a lot about the roles of the United Kingdom, France, Russia and Germany in World War II. We as a family knew much less about the role of The Netherlands in the war before visiting this extraordinary museum.
The facility is divided into two distinct spaces. One caters to children, and the other to adults. As parents with three younger children, we went immediately went to the "time machine" area built especially for children. It is set up to tell the story of World War II from the perspective of four real children who experienced the war firsthand. One was the son of a member of the Dutch Resistance; one was a normal Dutch boy whose family simply tried to live through the war. A third was a young Jewish girl, and the fourth was a teenaged girl whose Dutch family sympathized with the Nazis.
The stories of these real life characters unfold throughout their 'homes' which are built to scale in a historically accurate way. As you interact with their belongings, books, furniture, and rooms, you learn more and more about what actually happened to them during the war.
We spent over three hours going through the Junior Resistance Museum. Even though the model homes were technically created for children, I found it to be highly engaging even from the point of view of an adult! As a teacher myself, I was so impressed with the meticulous level of detail in each room and the thought provoking questions asked of my children at every turn. The experience was filled with sounds, textures, and interesting opportunities to learn about daily life in the 1940s amid wartime!
Our kids had to completely immerse themselves in the experience, and to think through the decisions and actions of each individual character. It was such a powerful experience! For days afterward my sons were speaking to us and to each other about what they had learned. "What would we have done if we lived then?" they asked again and again. "What would you have done if you were there?" "Would we have resisted?"
Señor Aventura spent more time than I did in the section of the museum reserved for adults, and he was blown away by the level of depth the exhibit went into in order to explain the rise of Fascism in The Netherlands before the war, along with their characterization of the complex political scene in Holland prior to the invasion of the Nazis. My husband was very moved by the photos and insights given into the lives of Dutch resistance leaders who risked everything to save Jewish families and children. Neither of us knew before that over 200,000 Dutch civilians had died of casualties related to the war, including starvation!
In the end, we still only got to see about half of the museum in the four hours we spent there before closing time. We all agree that we would love to return there in the future to explore everything we missed... including a fascinating room we glimpsed devoted to rationing and the food science of World War II.
This museum is a MUST SEE for any family interested in history and getting a more first-hand experience of life during the war.
Bagels & Beans
We can't sign off on Amsterdam until giving you just a taste of our now-favorite sandwich shop, Bagels & Beans. I've never experienced a bagel shop like this in the United States. It's a casual sit-down restaurant where the service is friendly and the food exceptional!
I was so impressed by their delicious cream cheese, I actually asked about it! Our server told me that the company makes all of its cream cheese in-house. They also have the best gluten-free bagels I've ever eaten! (Something else that tells you this place is not ordinary... they post the recipes for their signature bagels and cheesecake online for anyone to make at home!)
Bagels & Beans features sweet bagels, savory bagels and special bagels (like Japanese-style wild salmon and chicken chutney). Their prices are extremely reasonable, especially by Dutch standards. Between the five of us we must have tried seven different kinds of bagel dishes and all of them were terrific. They also had a very extensive selection of yummy teas and coffees, which were much appreciated in the 3C weather.
Just to clarify how much we loved this place, we ate lunch at Bagels & Beans three times in seven days!
All in all, we spent an amazing holiday week in Amsterdam. We could easily have stayed for a much longer time.
"I could live here, Mom," confided Soccer Dude as we stood gazing across a frosty canal toward gorgeous buildings in the distance. Perhaps someday he will!