I’m Dutch. Well, I’m 12th Generation American. My family first set foot in the New World in 1662 and if you’re looking for a history of the Dutch Colony of New Netherland, later referred to as New York, one of my favorite books is “Island at the Center of the World”by Russell Shorto. The Dutch influence on American culture is tremendous, but you wouldn’t know it because the victors (in this case the bloodly English) write history.
I’ve long desired to travel back to my ancestral homeland. Especially on those flights to London when you’re looking at the in-flight map on your little TV screen and it seems so close. But visiting Amsterdam and traveling through the Netherlands has alluded me.
I’m a travel guy. Sure, I love the things you can only enjoy at home: my French Press Coffee, my own bed, and being around my friends. But too much routine puts me in a rut. Today I’m going on a mental escape. And I have visions of cycling around Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is known as the Venice of the North because of the long stretches of canals built during the 1600’s while the Dutch enjoyed global dominance. Fortunately for us today, while the Dutch merchants were making money hand over fist Amsterdam invested big time in infrastructure and city planning.
We love exploring a new city by bike and in Amsterdam we’d be right at home on our two-wheelers. Reports say there are more than a half a million bikes in Amsterdam and there are more than 250 miles of dedicated bike paths and bike lanes in the city. In the 1960’s the City of Amsterdam actually provided free bicycles. The idea was that there were free bikes all over the city and they were meant to be ridden to one destination and left for the next person. When you were ready to go on your way, you’d just pick up another bike left by someone else. Within weeks most of the bikes were either stolen or trashed.
So no free bikes. And we’re not packing them. So we’re renting, and fortunately there are lots of places to do that.
All those merchant ships in the 17th Century brought more than money into Amsterdam. They brought culture, customs, food, drink, and spice from all over the world. Who would guess that Indonesian food is popular in Amsterdam?
Like any European destination I know there’ll be both cozy and hip cafes for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Sitting with my iPad reading the news hoping the kids remain calm so I can relax and enjoy the moment. We’ll eat well. We won’t gorge ourselves. We’ll eat a variety of interesting and healthy foods. And when we hop back on those bikes we’ll be off to explore what I think may be the most kid friendly city in Europe.
Parks galore. I’m not talking gardens like you think of when you think of Paris. I’m talking about parks with playground equipment. There’s even the Amsterdamse Bos an extensive outdoor area where the kids can feed the goats!
We’re going to the van Gogh Museum. I couldn’t live with myself if I went to Amsterdam and didn’t. But somehow I think my wife and I will get more enjoyment out of this than the kids. But we’ll all equally enjoy the epic NEMO Science Center. The architecture of the building is designed to make it look like a ship and is located on the historic harbor. There’s more than 5,000 square meters of interactive exhibits (hands on fun!) and another 500 square meters of cafes and restaurants when it’s time to get off your feet. And we’ll occasionally need a snack break because I think we could spend a whole day there!
Family fun. Check. Now it’s time for Rembrandt. We’ll make a stop at the Museum het Rembrandthuis, where they even have childcare while the parents enjoy the masterpieces.
As a family man and a good life man, I love places that mesh things that kids love and things that adults love and do it in a cohesive or even artistic way. That’s why I’m drawn to Amsterdam. That’s why I’m drawn to the Museumplein. Constructed to host the 1883 World Exhibition, here we could mingle with locals as they shop for groceries, enjoy a concert, toss a frisbee, or go ice skating.
But for me the best parts of family travel are the little things you do while exploring the city. Hanging out at the canal. Going on boat rides. And, in Amsterdam, eating lots of pancakes.
I don’t know when we’ll get there. But today it’s my mental escape.