Monday, April 23, 2012

Holland Trip Day 6: Melchelen, Belgium

Ray's Journal:
To our disappointment the sign
really read something about
ancestors of Beethoven lived here.
I woke up the family early today. I am so mean when it comes to CHOCOLATE!... Yes, today is the day we went to Belgium for CHOCOLATE!!!!!! We drove about an hour to a little bitty town outside of Brussels called Mechellen (pronounced like Magellan the navigator but with a “CH” not a “G”). This town is one of those that was so small we felt like we were the only non-residents in the city. This town had a lot of shopping to be done. None were high end stores like Rodeo Drive or Paris, but they were very European in their approach to everything. There were two palaces and 3 giant churches. The palaces had to be converted in order to maintain building cost, but it was a very quaint little village with a lot of history (see the pics of some the architecture). Something involving Beethoven and one of his concertos happened here according a brown and white history marker which I couldn’t read since it was Dutch. But most importantly to us, it had 5 different chocolate shops!!

Chocolate Shoe
All were chocolatiers, not just vendors, so it is all so very yummy! The chocolatier in one store tried to explain that it was Easter and that the chocolate eggs were the actual eggs which would be hidden. Some of the eggs were hollow with a ribbon on one end. The ribbon is for hanging in a tree, and the hollow space is filled with a candy. Gotta love those Belgian chocolatiers! All of the chocolatiers were very friendly (even the ones on the snooty looking high end (appearance wise) chocolate shops. I know this because every chocolatier spoke to the kids, explained to them and us what each piece of chocolate artistry was, made sure the kids were getting what they wanted, and asking us the whole time if this was okay. But to top it off, every single chocolatier said good by, but not to us adults - to the kids. “Good bye children”, Good bye kinder” (the Dutch pronunciation for kids) was used as the kids started to leave each time. The chocolatiers obviously wanted the children to enjoy their creations.

The ride back to camp was supposed to be a fun time as everyone was pumped up on chocolate and looking forward to a good swim in the camp pool fun zone. Instead the car overheated and we realized that Angie was even more sick than before. Luckily, I had enough water to refill the radiator and we made it back to camp, but it was so late (and Angie was feeling so poorly) that we canceled our barbecue and went to an American buffet restaurant 30 miles away. This was a tense time for me and Angie as the car was running very hot and not regulating engine or cabin temperature at all.
The American buffet was an interesting place. It had a children’s play area with the crawl through tubes most American kids now love, a baby play area with stuffed animals, and an arcade area with 6-8 old eighties style arcade games (PACMAN, Neo-Geo, Virtual tennis). It also had 6 different food areas: Italian, grilled, seafood, chinese, sports bar, and deserts. In the Netherlands all buffet restaurants are not an eat all you can event, they have you pay for an amount of time. In that time you can eat and drink whatever you want, but when your time is up you must leave. Definitely an interesting experience.

Angie's Journal:
This is was wonderful day! We found this wonderful gem of a town thanks to my mom. She was trying to help a client find something that wasn't very touristy, and she found Mechelen. Ironically, Lexi said one of her friends from school is from Mechelen. The town had an old world medieval charm, but the cobblestone streets that seemed so charming made my feet hurt by the end of the day. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our day of shopping and chocolate hunting.

Staring in the window of a chocolate shop.
This was my favorite chocolate

Since we visited right before Easter the chocolate shops where packed. There were bags with people's names on them and moms coming to pick up their bags. The kids and I were thinking how cool it would be to have a huge bags worth of Belgium chocolate for our Easter basket every year as a kid. The chocolatier and and costumers talked like they were good friends, so it wasn't that they were busy just because it was Easter. 

 Admiring the architecture by Neil

After we found all the chocolate shops, we headed to the old palace of Queen Margaret of Austria. It was a bit of a disappointment because we thought it would be something we could tour, but it was converted to the town hall building. We let Misty run around the garden for a little bit before heading to the tourist board building to use the only public bathroom before heading home.

Now it is time for a game we like to call:

Who is concentrating harder?

Neil trying to get into his chocolate?
Misty trying to put two Legos together?

That night we went to an awesome restaurant. We were a bit nervous because it was 30 minutes away, but it was an American Buffett. See we love to see other countries take on American food. It was a very large place and they got some things right, but mostly it was Dutch food with an American twist. The place was broken up into 5 or 6 themed areas. Each area had a buffet station and an attached dining area decorated to that theme. We sat in the Chinese food dining room. There was also BBQ which was pretty American, but I'm not sure how you could change throwing meat on a grill. They had a pancake shop, but they made crepes instead of American pancakes. It was still fun to add all the toppings you wanted on it though. The sweets buffet had all sorts of desserts I've never seen, but they were good. The beverage station was like walking into a 7/11. They had 6 slushie machines, each with a different flavor, smoothie machine, milk shake machine, bottled drinks, fountain drinks, and pretty much anything else you could think to drink. The kids and I got something different to drink each time we got up. It was a great meal to end our vacation.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Holland Trip Day 5: Safari

Angie's Journal:
The bad luck continued today, but the day wasn't a complete wash. Our original vacation plan was to go home on this day, but after saving some extra money we decided to extend our vacation. However, the place we were staying at was booked, so we had to change locations. Luckily I found another place to camp not far from where we were staying, and it was closer to Belgium - which reads land of chocolate to us. Since we had an early check out time and a late check in time, we had to fill the gap with something. I had found this wonderful touristy place that I thought would be a good place to get a taste of Holland with its cheese, windmills, wooden clog making demos, ect. Sadly it was closed :( So we continued onto the new campsite in hopes of getting an early check-in. Of course that didn't happen either, but we did manage to get into the attached the Beekse Bergen Safari park.

Misty was a bit irritable at this point, so the bus safari through the first half of the park wasn't that much fun. However, when we got to the other side of the park she cheered up as we sat and ate lunch and played at their huge playground. Lunch was simple but enjoyable with the entertainment of nearby monkeys that Misty found hilarious.

After lunch we had some time to kill before we took the safari boat back to the entrance, so Misty played on the playground for almost an hour. By the time the boat came we had a very happy Misty. It is amazing how the mood of a toddler can really make or break our family fun. It was pretty challenging on this trip because we struggled to find dairy-free foods since all the food packaging was in dutch. By this point in the week, we had managed to figure out what she could eat.

We found out that the boat ride we took was the last of the day, which gave us a special treat. The lady explained to us that they hand feed the animals to make sure they are all healthy. Then she went on to say that the last boat ride gets to watch the lemurs be fed. We all got a kick out of watching the animals wait for their favorite foods.

The timing of our safari adventure worked out wonderfully. We were able to check into our safari tent and enjoy a nice meal.

Outside our Safari Tent

Inside Safari tent
Ray's Journal:

We all woke up early to pack and break camp by the 10 AM check out time. Well..... everyone but Neil woke up early and began packing. Neil woke up and decided to go back to sleep for an hour.
After camp was packed we decide to go to the amusement park to waste time until we can check in at the next camp. Then it starts raining. So we decide to go to an historic recreation type of village. After a hour and half drive we find out that it is not yet open for the season. So we drive for another 2 hours to the next camp and hope we can check in early. But the staff is out “cleaning and preparing for our arrival” (according to their sign). 

So we go to the Safari zoo down the street and take a tour bus ride through half the zoo. Misty was crying the entire time because she was tired. Alexis was volunteered by the driver to help perform show and tell of the deer and antelope antlers and camel fur on display as part of the tour. We get off the tour bus and decide that Misty and all of us could do with some food. Neil gets animated during the course of his eating and spills a litre of chocolate milk on himself. 
Once that is all cleaned up we make for the safari boat. It takes us back to the other end of the zoo. The tour guide on it speaks in rapid fire Dutch to her other customers, then realizes that we are not listening to her so comes over to get us involved only to realize we don’t speak Dutch. So she ends up giving her normal tour in Dutch over the PA system and then turning off her microphone and talking to us in English about everything she can say about the zoo and its animals. It was kinda cool to have our own personal safari guide!

When we get back to camp we decide to have a nice meal. And WOW! what a nice meal! We were all full and VERY content when we find out that their credit card machine is broken and we have no cash. So the Maitre’d kindly allows us to go to the nearest cash point and return with the money. We all go back to the tent full but not happy. This vacation is not working out well....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Holland Trip Day 4: Amsterdam

Angie's Journal:
I'll be honest, this was not my day. The previous two weeks the girls had this nasty cold that I thought I was immune from until it hit me the day we were heading to Amsterdam. I don't remember too much of this day, just that I was grumpy and nothing worked out right--adding to the grumpiness. Thankfully Ray has a very detailed report of the days events. We plan to see Amsterdam again, so hopefully we will have a much better experience.

Ray's Journal:

We had a little trouble committing to any one plan this morning, so we got a bit of a late start. We finally decided on going to the world renowned city of Amsterdam. The train ride to the city is an ordeal - we ended up in the quiet only section of the train. All the other seats in the “its okay to talk” sections were taken. So Angie and I try to take turns with a crying Misty out in the open section while the kids seem to get a seat to themselves. We all pull stakes and meet at the exit to the train car at every stop as we have no idea what the train has just said (it’s all in Dutch).

Train Station -by Neil
Once we arrive at the train station we try to follow the picture signs to the “bootens” (we now think it means ferry boats). The signs take us to the ferry boats and commercial tourist vessels of a large size. It takes nearly an hour to figure out that the tourist canal boats are on the other side of the train station. A small ordeal, but made larger and more frustrating by me twisting my knee while carrying Misty and my camera bag.

Finally on boat -by Neil
(Side note from Angie: It is nice that Neil is taking up photography because now we get pictures of Ray who used to hide behind the camera! Thank you Neil :)

Once on the canal boats it seems that everything will finally work out for us. We take half the tour; passing the Anne Frank house which we already have tickets purchased for, we pass all the very cool buildings and houses, and we hear a large amount of the history and joking intrigue of the city. Misty is even being cute like normal, she is refusing to believe that she is on a boat. The water and ducks are funny.

Neil was very fascinated with the architecture in the city, especially the gables and the hooks on the houses. We learned on the canal cruise these are used to hoist furniture into the houses.

House Hooks - by Neil

Around mid to late afternoon we stop at the hop off for the national museum, but decide to take a side trip for some snacks. Now Misty sees the boat and accepts that she was on a boat, but now she wants to get back on and not leave the boat because,” I love boats, daddy”. We end up walking about a 1 3/4 Km. We order our food (the waitress spoke very good English, thankfully) only to find out that they don’t accept our UK Chip and Pin card. Nor do they accept American Credit or Debit cards. We were very lucky to have the right amount of cash on hand.

Sadly we didn't get to eat here, but we got a picture of it at least.
When we return to the canal boat we find out that the only two boats left running will be returning via the same route we already took, so it will be boring to us. It also means that we miss out on the Hard Rock Cafe.

Amsterdam Lamp Post: Ray is obsessed with street lamps for some reason.
Months ago Angie went and purchased tickets to the Anne Frank House online, as we had heard that there was always a multiple hour long line to wait in for purchasing at the door. We made this expensive purchase with the understanding that we would not have to wait in line, we have a definitive tour time, and it was an all around easier way to go about getting access. The 20 minute line we had to wait in only to find out that our pre-arranged tour time was not even a legitimate thing was frustrating. But once we gained entry, it was a fast 25 minute walk through a very rough few years of a little girls life. Alexis spent months on the waiting list to read “A Diary of Anne Frank”. This short tour brought all those pages to life for her. There are, sadly, no photos allowed inside the house. So all Lexi could take with her were memories of how the real place correlated to the book. Again, frustrating.

Once out of the Anne Frank House we found out that the Hop On Hop Off Canal boats do not operate at night. Nor do any of the taxi’s or water taxi’s. So we had to take a tram. Not a bad way to travel, they are every bit as good as city bus. The problem is that we were short of cash and they do not accept plastic cards of any sort. We almost did not have enough to pay for the 5 Km ride to the train station. And that left no money for food.

The train station had only one Cash Point machine and none of the food vendors accept plastic cards. The only food we thought Misty could eat, she didn’t like. The trip back on the train was a quiet ride of frustration with Misty crying that she was hungry, thirsty, wants to ride a boat, or wanted sugar snacks, but really just needing to go to sleep.We get back to the campground and Angie is feeling miserable. She is running a temperature. It is freezing cold outside and not much warmer in the tent. Everyone has to bundle up to get comfy for bed. 

Neil - The American
This is when the only funny moment in the day occurs.... I am in the bath house getting ready for bed when Neil comes in. He walks by the same gaggle of very loud and hyper children I walked by to get in, when one of them asks him a question in Dutch. He answers apologetically that he can not understand and the crowd goes crazy that he is an American. They can’t seem to get enough of him. Neil has attained instant rock star status for all of 10 minutes. The girls of the group follow the boys into the boys bathroom, but are so interested in Neil’s answers (which are keeping him from brushing his teeth) that they fail to notice until I walk by. Then two of the oldest girls look at me and then the blue door with the man symbol on it and get red faced and start screaming at the other girls that they have to get out now. It appears that Neil’s fame will be ruined by the very same thing caused his fame - a walk into a bathroom. Lexi, Angie, and I gave him a hard time the next morning when we had to pack the car - attention everyone, the American is leaving!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Holland Trip Day 3: The Keukenhof

Neil's pic
The beauty of the Keukenhof was amazing. Lots of beautiful flowers 
and fountains all throughout the gardens. 

Neil's pic from the car
On our drive to the Keukenhof we saw various fields of tulips and other bulb all along the way.

The funny part about the day is that Neil had the most fun this day because he enjoyed taking pictures.

Neil's pic

Neil's pic of the family

Some of the gorgeous tulips we found.

This is just by our table we ate at for lunch.

There was many sculptures and art work in the gardens. 
Neil had the idea of using this piece of art for a funny picture.

There was the famous wooden dutch shoes all over the place 
that we convinced the kids to get in for photo ops.

This was a bridge a mini obstacle course going over one of the canals. 
The as you can see Neil got a little wet, but then again so did I.

When you climb up the windmill, you get a view of the tulip fields.

Neil's pic
The kids and I were quite amused by watching this guy dance 
around knocking his wooden clogs together to the beat of the giant calliope.

Ray's Journal:
Day 2 dawns and we go the Keukenhof, a world renowned Tulip farm and castle. The tulips are not all in bloom, it appears that we came a week early. We found out that the boat ride through the tulips must be made in advance or you can wait for several hours. But the rest of the park is pretty swank! There are tons of tulips and other flowers as expected, but there are playgrounds and hedge mazes (by now you know how much the Goodwin family loves those!) and statuary and a windmill. The castle is not part of the Keukenhof tour, but is still part of the picturesque scenery of the most photographed tulip field in the world. It was an awesome trip.

Holland Trip: Day 2 Duinrell and Scheveningen Beach

Ray's Journal:
The next day all the children want to do is go the water park and amusement park which are attached to the camp. Neil, Misty, and Angie go explore the amusement park while Alexis and myself go to the indoor water park. The water slides they have are awesome! They encompass everything from beginner to outstanding coolness in a water tube. Lexi and I are there for 2 hours (our limit based on what we paid, but also on our stamina). we really enjoyed the fun here.

Angie's Journal:
Our day started off with us taking care of a few things before we went to have some fun at the attached theme park. First order of business get our "passport photos" for the IDs required to get into the park.

Family Photos for ID cards

Next we had to go to the grocery store to check out the local goodies.

Pancake shaped sponge cake
We then went to the theme park and had some fun. We ended up splitting up because Lexi REALLY wanted to do the water park and Neil wanted to do the theme park. It was a lot of fun, but since I had Misty and Ray was in the water we have no pictures of the amusement park.

For dinner we decided to try a pancake house which The Netherlands seems to have in abundance. Before our trip, a couple friend of ours told us to go to Scheveningen Beach if we could. Fortunately, we were staying nearby and there was a pancake house on the beach strip.

The red canopy is 't Pannekoekenhuisje that we had dinner.
By the time we hit the beach we were starving, so it was very fortunate the Pancake House was one of the first restaurants we came across. Behind the restaurants is the fancy building in the background is the Kurhaus hotel.

Scheveningen Beach Walk
As we continued down the beach, we came across a lot of restaurants that were actually on the beach. The kids wanted to go back later in the week to one of these restaurants, but we never made it back.

Somewhere along the beach, Lexi found a bungee trampoline place. We had decided the kids can do one "experience" of their choice every day on this holiday. Ironically, this was the only day they did anything; Neil blew his money at the arcade.