Sometime in early October Cooper came home and said he wished he had joined the soccer team at school– (The International School of Amsterdam, or ISA). He was playing for the local club in Laren, but since he had met more people at school, he was interested in checking out the team. After a few e-mails and a lot of learning as a ‘new parent’, Cooper ended up being added on to the team for the last part of the season. We were excited for a few reasons: …because we lived farther away from school, our boys didn’t always have a chance to connect with peers from school, and being on the team would definitely provide that. Being involved also could potentially be a way for Cooper to feel confident in his school setting, which is always a bonus when you’re ‘new’. But being part of the team provided another unique experience for which Chris and I were thankful: as part of the NECIS conference, ISA student athletes traveled to other international schools to compete. In the span of a season, they could have a match as close as Den Haag (The Hague), or as far away as Luxembourg. While visiting other schools, the players were housed with students from the opposing international school. When teams travel to Amsterdam, ISA families take a turn hosting. Great system, and an opportunity to see even more of Europe. For the families too….? I believe so!
Because of his late start, Cooper would only take one trip with the team, but he was excited for the opportunity. The last weekend in October, he traveled to Bonn, Germany. He played a game on Friday afternoon, stayed over with a family who had a player on the Bonn team, and then played another match Saturday morning. After hearing stories from ‘veteran’ team moms at ISA, I had the idea to follow the team to Germany and use it as an opportunity to explore nearby Cologne. So Rooney was dropped off at the ‘dierenpension’/kennel, and Jack and I hopped in the car Friday after school. Weekend traffic was very slow in the Netherlands, but at some point I crossed over into Germany…..no traffic, no speed limit, with dry, clear roads. Let’s just say we made good time. (zoooom!)
I’m glad I asked our Bonn hotel owner for a dinner recommendation, because it was very quiet by the time we pulled into town. We went to a traditional German restaurant, and Jack had his first ‘schnitzel’. He loved it so much he didn’t want his french fries (and that is saying something). It was fun to watch the locals interact at the bar, and Jack noticed right away how much German sounds like Dutch. We retired to our little hotel room down the road, quickly checked in with Cooper via text, and then read a bit before heading to bed. The next morning we had a fantastic breakfast provided by the hotel, and headed over to Bonn International School. Situated right on the river in a beautiful location.
The field was a muddy mess, and Bonn was a tough team.
ISA lost 4-2. Cooper played tough, and had a couple good runs down the left side….his favorite.
Jack enjoyed the playground equipment and over-sized chess set
We had a family learning experience following the match, as Cooper realized he was the only student not heading back to Amsterdam on the bus. My heart hurt for him, as I realized how important this new experience was for him. Thankfully Cooper is a LOT like his father, …. (never holds ‘grudges’, or stays angry for long). With the idea of a chocolate factory at the other end of the road, we piled into the car and headed to Cologne.
Parking the car took a ridiculous amount of time, but we finally checked into our AirBnB apartment and settled in. Jack was still in a soft cast/walking boot, so I knew we couldn’t venture too far, but there was a lot we could see within a short walk of our apartment.
More than the Chocolate Factory, I wanted to see the Cologne Cathedral, so we went there first. Having just been to Rome, you might think that the boys were not easy to impress when it comes to cathedrals, but it would be impossible not to be impressed by this massive structure. And it was very interesting/different than what we saw in Rome, with its Gothic influence.
We explored the city for the bulk of the afternoon, but made sure we stopped for lots of treats to rest our legs…and there were LOTS of treats…. No, they didn’t finish these dishes of ice cream.
While walking off the calories, we found a Lego store, which was a nice bonus for Cooper and Jack. With euros they had saved, they both purchased kits (as ….’souvenirs’?) The boys exhibited a nice amount of patience as I browsed a few more shops on the way back home, accomplishing a little Christmas shopping. We were definitely not hungry for dinner yet (extra-large ice cream portions will do that!), so I dropped the boys at the apartment to build Legos while I explored a bit more on my own. I snapped this photo quickly as I passed a puppeteer’s workshop…I didn’t want him to think I was being nosy, but his work was incredible.
The boys and I went out later and had fantastic German brats and fries, two doors down from our apartment. Cooper laughed at the size of the brat (which was 3 times the size of its bun), and then took a picture to post on Instagram. We realized looking across the river that there was some kind of fair or carnival going on…but none of us seemed to think we were missing anything. I like having a family like that.
This nutcracker shop wasn’t open when I passed by, but I wouldn’t mind checking it out if I ever make it back to Koln….
The next morning we headed back to Laren to pick up Rooney and start our week. The boys were very impressed with how fast people drove on the autobahn, and I shared that people that love cars (and driving) often dream of driving here, so they can actually experience the speed a car can travel (legally…-). I stuck to 130 or 140 km/hour….. and believe me, I was getting passed. Pretty crazy! It was a bit disappointing to have to slow down crossing the border back into The Netherlands…..
Other funny things we will remember about our trip:
The clock in our rental apartment was broken. (Cooper took a video of the minute hand moving forward, and then backwards, it was like something out of a creepy movie). We arrived in Cologne around 3.00, and left at 6.42 — We laughed, saying we knew we had a short trip, but we were there more than 4 hours!!
Also,the boys got a kick out of the “Ja!” brand juice, milk, and bread products:
….”Do you want juice?”
OK, we were a little punchy at that point.
Our next trip was one we had planned for quite a while, because it involved Cooper and Jack’s biggest ‘bucket list’ item of our stay in Europe: attending a Manchester United match in England. One incredible benefit of working in football at Nike is Chris’ ability to get tickets to matches like these, and the one we were headed to was a ‘biggie’– Arsenal vs. Man United at Old Trafford. The boys (all 3) were VERY excited. Truth be told, we were all excited. I have become quite the football fan since meeting Chris and watching our boys play, and the MLS (go Timbers!), and Premier League, and other competition on TV. As with most things, once you understand a sport, it becomes more interesting. It’s also very special to watch your family enjoy something together. Chris has always loved ‘growing’ Cooper and Jack in soccer/football– coaching, watching matches together, discussing players, etc. So for many reasons, this ‘pin in our map’– (as we traveled to our 3rd country in a month) –was a special one, and I think we all knew that heading in.
Our “Rooney”, named after Wayne Rooney from Manchester United, would not be attending the match, but instead went to his home-away-from-home at Naarden Dierenpension. At this point, I was thinking Rooney could actually understand more Dutch than anyone in our family, because the people at the kennel spoke exclusively in Dutch to him. He loves the place, and bounds in the doorway to get his treat from Marianne, or whomever is checking the pups in that day. That makes us feel good, of course, because it is tough to not share our adventures with him.
We flew to Manchester Saturday morning– I think the flight time was an hour and 35 minutes. (I LOVE how close everything is here…). Chris and I spent most of the time on the plane catching up, because he had been traveling so much. (Funny side story here: when we were passing through security at Schipol, the flight attendant from the Amsterdam-Portland flight recognized Chris in the line. Being that he had JUST flown in the day prior from the US, she said, “Chris, you’re back already??”. Yup, you know you travel a lot when you are recognized by a flight crew by name….)
We checked in at our ‘ApartHotel’ –strange name, to match our slightly strange accommodations– and explored the city a bit. Our plan was to tour Old Trafford, the Manchester United museum and the “Mega Store” in the afternoon. Jack enjoyed spotting double decker buses and black taxis as we walked along. I made a mental note to make sure we took a tour in London on one of the infamous red double decker buses….(so much to see…..will we have enough time??……)
Chris had been to Manchester many times, so he knew where to eat, and how to get around. We met up with his co-worker to collect the tickets for the match the next day…. (Raf is an Arsenal fan, but we tried not to give him too much grief for that until after the tickets were in OUR hands….ha!). After lunch– where the kids enjoyed reading and ordering from a menu that was printed in English– we headed over to the stadium. The place was buzzing with tourists, and street vendors selling scarves and other Man U trinkets. We booked a stadium tour for a few hours later, and headed to the “Mega Store”. I thought it was pretty impressive, and I guess it’s good our boys like the color red….. We all decided on a few things (no problems with finding souvenirs on THIS trip….:-), and headed to the museum.
Plenty of ‘silverware’ in this club’s history…..
The boys and I learned about some of the history associated with football (Chris knew a lot of this already). I like the “caps” tradition, in which every time a player from a club played for his national team, he received a cap from his country. The old uniforms were kind of fun to see as well. The term ‘boots’ that refers to a player’s cleats on the pitch, comes from the fact that they actually wore boots when the game first began….leather, laced up over the ankle boots. I can imagine that the pace of the game was a little different… Funny, I just added this picture, and looking at Cooper standing next to Chris, I noticed he is getting really tall… I don’t know why I am continually surprised by this.
We had a bit of time to kill before our tour so we hung out in the cafe, and also played a quick game of foos … (Jack is already wearing his new jacket, as you can see….)
Our tour of Old Trafford was excellent. Our guide was a typical Brit, with a dry wit and a great smile, never missing an opportunity to include a Liverpool joke as he ‘brought us round’… We were able to see the locker room, and where the players changed and prepped for matches. Our guide invited us to sit in our favorite player’s “spot” if we wanted to grab a picture. We saw the field from many different angles, and got very close to the pitch (but were not allowed to walk on it). I think Cooper and Jack really enjoyed sitting in the players’ seats…. a chance to experience the vantage point of Rooney, van Persie,.….
It was a special experience to be that close to where the action happens, for sure.
That night we had dinner at a great Indian restaurant on the ‘Curry Mile’ which was recommended by a co-worker of Chris’. Then we headed back to the apartment/hotel for the night. Mental note: next time we travel to the UK, remember to bring the outlet adapter. We had to fight over the two chargers that the hotel desk provided for us, because we forgot that the UK uses different plugs than the rest of Europe (and different currency, and drives on the left, and……yes, that is England!)
Next day: MATCH DAY! But, it didn’t start until the evening, so we had a bit of a lazy morning (I had my first Starbucks’ coffee in months….) and walked around the city a little bit more. I saw this interesting mural, and thought of my friend Jin…. Chris stopped in the Nike store and ‘talked shop’ with a salesperson about what was selling well, and other product information. Then we ate a quick lunch/dinner(?) at Hard Rock Cafe and headed over to the stadium in a taxi. The energy around Old Trafford was fantastic, and we could hear people singing outside even before we got out of the car. We had a drink in the lounge area, and then found our seats. Big place!
Watching warm up: I pointed out the increased security in the area of the stadium designated for away (Arsenal) fans. You can see pretty clearly how many bright yellow jackets are present to keep the crowd where it’s supposed to be… They had a minute of silence for the veterans, and then they began.
I don’t think we wanted to say it out loud in our family, but we were a little nervous about the outcome of this match. After several years of dominating, Man U had struggled a bit early in this season. We knew Arsenal was looking strong coming in, so we just hoped for the best.
So a little bit before half, we were VERY excited when this corner kick from Rooney ended up being a beautiful goal by VP. (I didn’t get a picture of the goal…I was a little distracted
1-0. Looking good!
And perhaps many of you know this already, but the final score ended up being just that….1-0 Man U. Fantastic! The crowd was very pleased….
The boys had a little bit to talk about when they returned to school that week….and they were wearing quite a bit of red.