Icons of Holland

First up...wooden shoes...
Then the dikes, and dike houses....

Then there's the tulips....

And last but not least, the windmills....

Bikes, Dikes, Wooden Shoes and Windmills

A tribute to my roots! We definitely think Holland is worth a return trip.   Amsterdam is nice, but we left a lot of stuff in rural Holland un-seen, including the homeland of my mother's side in the far North...

First, there are a lot of bikes in Amsterdam. A lot of bikes.

Travelling with kids tip: If going to Amsterdam, find the Pancake Boat tour.  When the boat launches, an unlimited buffet of pancakes and a wide variety of fixin' opens. Great thing for a cold rainy day, which it was.   Oh and added bonus: Pancakes cooked with strips of bacon in them. Mind. Blown.

The Anne Frank house tour - no pictures allowed inside, unfortunately.   A commemorative statue outside Westerkerk, just down the corner from the Anne Frank House.

The house blends in to the neighborhood. In fact, we were just lounging by a street level door waiting for the tour and saw the placard.

Waiting outside of the Anne Frank House for the tour.

The Rijksmuseum, home of Rembrandt and his contemporaries.  Another travelling with kids tip: Make museums a scavenger hunt, give them postcards or pictures of the famous works and and have them find them all.  The Rijksmuseum does it even better, they hand out a scavenger hunt with a page for every room in the museum. Great way to keep the kids engaged.  Here, they respond to some questions about Delft Blue in the background....a common sight in my house growing up ;).

The Grand Finale, Rembrandt's Night Watch. I'm the last person to give a critical review of art, but as a layman Rembrandt s use of salient light is incredible - it almost looks as if stage lights from around the room are lighting up portions of the painting like a stage.

Outside Amsterdam is where real Holland is....here in the seaside town of Marken, for example, some of the locals are seen in traditional dutch clothing replete with wooden shoes.

On a dike!  The island town of Marken is a bowl, a dike rings the entire island holding back the seawater.   A strange feeling for sure.

Volendam....sometimes the dikes are well disguised. Here, the dike makes up the boardwalk for a shopping area.

Chase finds an appropriate souvenir.

But what about the windmills, you ask?  Zaanse Schans for sure delivered on some spectacular windmill sights....to be continued.

The Keukenhof

On our way from Bruges to our apartment in Amsterdam, we made a stop at the Keukenhof Gardens near Lisse in the Netherlands.   You know all those pictures you see of Holland with fields full of colorful tulips? Yep, that's this place. And although we're not really flower lovers, and although the tulips hadn't fully bloomed yet....WOW.  This place is really amazing and well worth the stop. Click here for the full photos.

In Bruges

 WE'RE FRESH OFF a week of vacation, spending the first half in the city of Bruges, Belgium.  We booked it a little late, so we were fortunate to find a central street level city apartment near the center.  "Lady Lace" - our apartment - sat on a bustling street full of the traditional Flemish style of houses, many of which were built in the 17th century (including ours). You can see the lettering on a neighboring house - 1620.  These buildings have seen some history.  
 We planned for warmer weather. Unfortunately mother nature didn't cooperate and we pretty much had to bundle up every day to see the sights.  Occasionally the sun would come out and take the edge off of the wind.  On the right, the tribe prepares to cross the street with out apartment to the back (right) in the background. 

Many of the buildings were in the "traditional Flemish style" which practically means they had the stair-step facades.    None of the buildings showed that better then the ones on the square, which were also full of color.  

No doubt the icon of Bruges is the Belfry, or Belfort.   This giant structure towers over the market square and the rest of Bruges. We were fortunate in that it was closed from January through March 30th...but we arrived on the 31st just as it reopened, right on schedule.  
 You can't go to Bruges (or virtually any other European city, as it were) without doing the canal tour, of course.  
 The city is close to the North Sea, and the canals directly connect Bruges with the North Sea Harbor. In older times, supplies were shipped in by boat directly from the harbor to their destination in Bruges. Today, many significant buildings (and many homes) are directly located on - or in? - the canals. 
 Someone on our tour boat company had a sense of humor.  The kids wanted to know if it was real, and if so, what else this boat was used for.
 On a clear day, it is said one can see from the Belfort all the way to the North Sea. Althought technically this photo is facing in the opposite direction, on our trip we could see the harbor in the North Sea.  
 Our entire time there the square was bustling with activity. The night we arrived there was a concert, the next day a major bike race launched from there, and then shortly thereafter they began setting up for a festival.  This photo was one of the very few opportunities we had to see the square relatively undisturbed. 
 The Provincial court building is an impressive structure on the market square. 
 Everyone knows that Belgium is famous for the waffle.   Fun fact, in Belgium its not a breakfast food but rather an afternoon snack. Another fun fact? French fries came from Belgium too.  
 ...But its the chocolate that is everywhere in Bruges. There are dozens upon dozens of chocolate stores and makers.  We indulged only once for an after dinner desert, and not surprisingly the kids were a little excited to open up the box.  I'll admit we staged this photo, but it didn't require much staging....
 Bruges is beautiful during the day, but it's not until the sun sets that it really becomes like a postcard.   

All over the city warm incandescent flood lights turn on and bath all of the buildings in a warm glow

Its not a big city, so from a lot of different vantage points you can still capture the Belfort towering over the city in the background. 
 Or as in this case, the steeple of the Church of our Lady (also the home of Michelangelo's Madonna). The contrast of this street - newer buildings with efficient fluorescent lights create a blue hue - against the orange incandescent glow of the steeple. 

It's hard to get lost in Bruges....just look for the Belfort. 
 It was shortly after this picture of the square where my night photography session of Bruges came to an abrupt end due to an uncomfortable encounter with a local - something about "tourists" and "evil" and some arm grabbing involved....good time to head back to the apartment, but not before catching the market square in lights. 

We liked Bruges. It's easily walkable through the entire town so you don't have the hassle of having to figure out public transportation, everything is just a few minute walk away, and it's actually somewhat kid friendly.   

Which showed a little on their faces. We snap all sorts of photos of the kids all over Europe and although they smile it's sometimes easy to see its not super genuine...tired from walking, or sight seeing, or museum hunting, or hungry, etc....but this is probably my all time favorite kid picture from our time in Europe. Why? I think they actually all simultaneously liked it!