This past May, my parents came from South Carolina to visit us in the Netherlands (after first taking a river cruise through Germany). It had been 50 years since they had been to Europe ! I spent weeks, (months, actually), thinking about what we would do together, and their arrival — on Mother’s Day, at the dock in Amsterdam– couldn’t come soon enough in my mind. I hadn’t been with my Mom on Mother’s Day in over 20 years, and now she had come half-way around the world to see me. Needless to say there were a few tears when we first saw each other.
This post would be ridiculously long if I included everything, so I will go through the highlights (and for my parents and those that are interested, the funnier and more sentimental “moments we will never forget” are at the end…)
OK– here it goes. Not in any particular order.
The Rijks Museum: We spent a good chunk of one day touring the Rijks. . It was difficult to pick and choose what to see, but at a museum this large, you have to narrow things down unless you are going to stay for a week. We decided on a 17th Century Tour, because like many others, Mom and Dad wanted to see Vermeer, and Rembrandt’s Night Watch.
We visited the gift shop in a quest for grandchildren souvenirs and enjoyed some delicious soup in the cafe. Like many of the places we visited, Dad took time to appreciate the design and architecture……
Naarden Vesting: Because our car only seats 5 people, it was difficult to take a trip with our whole family involved. However on the weekend, I took 4 people, Chris grabbed a boy for the back of his Vespa, and we headed to nearby Naarden, with its quaint streets nestled inside fortress walls- (complete with a moat!). Despite the majority of the Vesting Museum exhibit being in Dutch, we were able to get a pretty good sense of the fort’s layout–with its impressive and unique star shape. (it doesn’t look like he’s safe, here, does it?)
Den Haag/Delft: With the boys in school during the week, we took advantage of the room in the car (and absence of adolescent groaning about museum touring), and took a few day trips. One was to Den Haag, or “The Hague” as most people know it. The Peace Palace was not open to the public, but we took an audio tour of the visitor’s center, and learned a lot about Andrew Carnegie, and the history of the International Court(s) of Justice. Outside, there was a small dogwood tree that was covered with small pieces of paper. Upon closer inspection, it was an opportunity for visitors to write their individual messages, with hopes for peace. ….wonderful to see in so many languages
Anne Frank Huis: One day we picked up the kids at school and headed into Amsterdam to visit the Anne Frank House. It was something we wanted to do since we arrived in NL, and I was glad to have the opportunity to do it with my parents. There are no photos allowed on the inside, but it’s a powerful place, and the kind of experience where pictures aren’t necessary to preserve memories. Outside, we took a few stereotypical ‘stand in front of the canal’ photos, which the boys were thrilled about.
Walking Amsterdam- Centraal Station to the Flower Market: One day we took the tram to Centraal Station and worked our way along the canal rings to the Singel Flower Market. The station itself is an impressive building, and my parents were also amazed at the enormous structure that provides several thousand spaces for the commuter bikes for the station: How do you remember where you parked your bike? My mom wondered.
It was a beautiful day, and after stopping for a quick visit at the Nieuwe Kerk, we enjoyed lunch in Dam Square. The canals themselves are usually what is the most striking to visitors….we stopped several times for photos.
After finding a small, almost ‘hidden’ church in the Kalverstraat, we moved on to the Singel Flower Market. Anything and everything having to do with tulips and flowers was available– even pre-packaged bulbs in tin cans, (so you can bring them on the flight home with you).Definitely a bit toursity, but fun nonetheless….. One of my favorite cheese shops was right in the area as well– Old Amsterdam– so we stopped in for a few samples, and made some more progress on the souvenirs…. , (right Mom?)
Bruges, Belgium: There were plenty of overnight trips I considered for my parents’ visit, but Bruges won for being easy to get to, as well as being ‘doable’ in two days. Plus, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site, it’s very walkable, and it’s gorgeous!
We did a lot of walking– poking our heads into churches, courtyards and chocolate shops along the way. This is one of my favorite photos of my parents: Mom is admiring the herb garden, and Dad is photographing the roof line of the adjacent building. (It is classic ‘them’, and I love ‘them’, just the way they are!)
Food was a huge highlight and focus in Belgium– especially the sweets! We watched candy and chocolate being made and we picked up some chocolate footballs and boots for the boys, (which were displayed with extravagant Brazilian masks in honor of the upcoming World Cup!).
Our favorite meal (dessert?) by far was the Belgian waffles. As a matter of fact, we loved them so much we went to the exact same place twice in two days. With strawberries in season, and the fresh whipped cream, they were just fabulous.
It was a fantastic trip (and our weather was amazing, which is always is a bonus!)
Amsterdam again and again!!!: I dropped my parents off at the Van Gogh Museum one day. They took a few hours to do an audio tour while I had a meeting. Museumplein is just gorgeous when you have nice weather, and the cafe at the Stijdelijk museum was perfect for lunch.
We ‘hopped off’ near the Hermitage Museum and walked to Rembrandtplein for a drink and a chance to shop. then we hopped back on to head back towards the Rijks. Mom and Dad enjoyed the many different kinds of houseboats. Dad perfected the ‘lean out the window picture’ stance….
In Dutch tradition, we even hosted our neighbors for a ‘borrel': pre-dinner drinks and snacks (Bella, our neighbors’ new beagle, was a highlight of that event- attempting to steal cheese off the table in the garden
Although we explored and experienced a great deal, my favorite part was simply being together. Waking up and having a cup of coffee with my parents every day for two weeks is priceless in my mind, and as we sat there laughing about past family journeys or discussing present-day issues, it wouldn’t have mattered where we were in the whole world. I felt grateful that the boys had a chance to just ‘hang out’ with Grandma and Grandpa……learning about new apps:. attending football tournamentssubjecting them to ‘bags/cornhole’ competitions and making sure Rooney got his daily back and head rub:
They headed home and the house was a little quieter, but I was glad I knew we would see them soon enough during our summer break. I felt so fortunate that they had the means–physically and financially to take on a trip like this, as I will never forget it.
And now, if you are interested: the list of things we will never forget. A few are sentimental, and others are just amusing. Traveling is always an adventure:
**Not being able to get to the Anne Frank House because part of the route was under construction- (and subsequently rushing back to the car to drive in order to make our reservation…). I can’t accurately repeat what the bus driver said to me about the closure, it was something like: “It is broken there. It is not possible to go there like this” ….ugh– ! And I had planned it all out so well! (I thought!?)
**Getting to Bruges and finding out we had no lodging. “It was AirBnB’s fault”, the host claimed. Hmmm…. The place at which we were re-booked was great, and we got a fantastic free breakfast out of it, so no worries.
**Walking the Singel Flower Market — twice. “Wait, haven’t we already been on this corner? Let’s check the map”. Sometimes all of the canals start looking the same.
**The ongoing, slightly conflict-causing, attempt to find souvenirs for all 10 grandchildren (for those who know our family and think they counted wrong, Liane and Paul are fostering a toddler, so we have an extra Clark in the mix). Even picking out postcards to send them takes a lot of deliberation with these two involved…..:
**Dad’s attempt to tip the waitress at the Stijdelijk Cafe by writing an additional amount on the Visa receipt– she kidded, “are you writing me a love letter?”. He commented after, “I really need to start carrying coins around– for tipping, and for using the bathroom!” (yup, you need to pay to pee….)
**Getting stuck in ridiculous traffic through Antwerp –twice. Dad attempting to use the Google Maps app to assist me from the back seat…”The red line extends all the way on the E34 to the next exit, let me see if I can ….oops! I just touched something and lost the screen….what did I press?” classic. Mom attempting to text Cooper on my phone to let him know we’d be late led to a similar situation. “Wait! Where did that screen go?”…. Me: “swipe to the left, Mom”…. “What? How do you swipe?”. Giddy from the reminders that the current generation’s ‘smart’ devices aren’t all that simple to use, we were sitting in a literal standstill for about 40 minutes on the E19, E34, (or whatever it was)…when the navigation screen pops up and says “There is an alternate route that is 1 minute faster, would you like to reroute?”. ONE minute?? We basically burst out laughing.
**Noting the inordinate number of young couples either on their phones, or taking ‘selfies’ as they traveled together (another generational thing, I know…) this next one in particular made us laugh, because this couple was together, but didn’t even take their ‘selfie’ together:
**Our tour guide at the Rijks that walked at a break-neck speed. We were continually afraid we might lose her around the next corner.
**Teaching Grandma and Grandpa card games, particularly the ones with inappropriate names like “Horseballs”, (which we temporarily re-named “Suits”, until at one point when Jack slipped up and said to Grandpa– “you got horseballed since you can’t bid what you want”).oops.
**Directions about, and understanding of, our appliances. “Yes, Mom, our washing machine’s cycle is 2 hours and 32 minutes….”
and my favorite, which still brings tears to my eyes–
**Picking up my parents at the Viking Cruise dock on the first morning. It was pouring rain and I spotted my Dad standing on the deck looking for our car. I gave him a big hug, and as we headed across the deck inside, I asked him briefly about their last few days of cruising, and how their trip had been going. He told me Mom was in the lounge saying goodbye to a few people they had met in the last 10 days. “Mostly people from Europe”, I remember him noting. I walked into the lounge where she was chatting with a few women, and she stood up to greet me. As I hugged her tightly, I said “Happy Mother’s Day” into her shoulder. She said the same, and we just hung on for a while, oblivious to the group that was standing there watching us as we shared a good cry.
As usual, thanks for listening, and for sharing these experiences with me.