Monday, January 20, 2014

Quick Weekend in Amsterdam... Never a Dull Moment

This is a total first world complaint but I'm going to say it anyways.  I'm sick of traveling lately.  I'm just exhausted.  I mean, don't me get me wrong, I love it at the same time.  I'm just tired of getting to the airport, waiting for hours, flying to a destination, doing the touristy thing and then back to the airport, waiting, flying home, etc etc.

So when Josh said that he wanted the kids and I to visit him in January one weekend instead of him coming home, I balked.  I really didn't want to go.  I booked the flight though because I knew it meant a lot to him and honestly if I'm tired of traveling, can you imagine him?  On a flight every week - flying home on Thursday night or often on Saturday morning, only to fly right back out again on Sunday.  It's exhausting.

Admittedly, I wasn't looking forward to this weekend.  I am slammed with work this week which is a nice motivator for me and I didn't want to leave and lose steam on those projects.  So taking a Friday off to travel wasn't my ideal situation, nor pulling the kids out of school for the day.  But it also gave me a moment to reflect in the chaos that is currently our lives, that we have really changed so much. Seriously, 4 years ago would I have gotten on a plane on a Friday afternoon just myself and the kids to head to another country that wasn't my home?  Um, no. And not only did I do it this weekend, but I'm also planning a weekend trip the kids and I to visit some friends in Stockholm.  Never did I think I would get to that point.

Anyways, I digress.  The kids were great on the plane and the flight overall uneventful.  It even landed 30 minutes early which was a relief for me since it was starting to get turbulent and I'm not a good flier on a non turbulent day.  Once we landed, I'll admit, I started to get a little bit excited about the weekend, despite my previous animosity towards the idea of going.  As we wound our way around the airport, we started to talk about how much we like Amsterdam (this was not our first time here), even the airport!  Filled with tons of stores, a Starbucks (a huge winner for both kids), smoothies and a big chocolate kiosk, you can't lose.

The kids are aware that it's possible our next move could be to the Netherlands.  But as things are still up in the air about where we will end up (which could also be back home in Boston), we're still doing the "if we lived here" thing.  So "if we lived here" we'd have an airport much bigger and cooler than the one in Barcelona.  On the flip side, being much larger means getting to the airport that much earlier since the Barcelona one, being pretty small and uncrowded, is a piece of cake to get through.

We made it to the train station that was within the airport and got on our train heading towards Amsterdam Centraal.  Josh met us just outside Amsterdam Centraal and we walked over to his office which literally is next door.  So easy!  The kids had been talking for days about going to visit Daddy's office so this was very exciting for them.  And Aidan had tons of questions for Josh while we were there.  I loved seeing his curiosity as it had been quite some time since either of them had visited Josh at work.  We met a lot of Josh's co-workers and everyone was incredibly friendly and we felt right at home immediately!
Someone was not thrilled as we waited for the train... it could have to do with getting in trouble for running around near the train tracks...

Daddy's desk is HUGE!

After checking out Josh's work digs, we headed out to go see where he's been living.  Having just moved from a hotel a few weeks ago to a temporary apartment, it's still weird to say "let's go to daddy's apartment" and not "let's go to our apartment".  Josh and I have been together for 19 years and living together for 15 of them - so it just feels so weird still to know that he has this life here that does not include us.  It's like being divorced in a weird way - the kids going to visit daddy on the weekends... only I'm visiting him too.  It's just a strange surreal thing.

View from Josh's apartment - not too shabby!

The stairs were ridiculously steep - like climbing up and down a ladder... for 3 floors!

The picture doesn't even do it justice on how steep they are...

But I know Josh was excited to show us "his" city and how much he's gotten to know it.  I remember this when we moved to Barcelona.  Josh was there a month before us and it was so nice that he had a lay of the land before we got there.  It made transitioning just that little bit easier.  And should we end up living here, it's nice knowing that we would be in the same boat, if not more so as he's already been here several months and will be for at least a few more.

We did dinner at one of many Argentinian grills here.  For some reason that seems to be a popular food choice with an Argentinian grill on practically every corner.  As I don't get good steak often in Barcelona, I'm cool with it.  And the boys were very happy with the choice as well.  I stared out the window thru much of the meal amazed at the number of bikers that rode by.  Having been to Amsterdam before, this shouldn't surprise me, but yet I'm still in awe because the last time I was here it was spring, so of course everyone is out on their bikes... but now it's winter and it was raining and yet, everyone was still out on their bikes.  When they say that the Netherlands is a country that bikes a lot, they aren't kidding.

A nice long walk after dinner and then it was back to the apartment to just relax for the rest of the evening.  The weather was pretty crappy, which I wasn't surprised by.  That to me, would be the hardest part of any transition - going from Barcelona's 300 days of sun and blue skies (not to mention winter days in the 50s) to cold, rainy and gloomy.  But as we have no plan in place at the moment, I'm not going to stress about that one.

Decorations still up for the holidays.  And look, bikers!

Part of the festival of light and the boys walking down a pedestrian street after dinner.

Saturday morning we all just chilled out to start the day.  The beauty of the kids being older is we no longer have to stick to a fixed schedule about getting out the door in order to make best use of our time before a nap or a scheduled lunch time.  We got up and out on our own pace with the kids having a light breakfast of bread with chocolate jimmies, a traditional Dutch breakfast.

Liam gives the chocolate jimmies sandwich a thumbs up... and yes we brought some back to Barcelona so we can make them here too.  A breakfast of champions!

The chocolate sandwich wasn't quite filling enough, so we headed to Sara's Pancake House - probably one of our favorite places from our last visit in 2011. These pancakes are AMAZING!!!!

Liam's blueberry, ice cream and whipped cream pancake.  I had the apple and honey and whipped cream.

Aidan's was cherries and whipped cream.

After the delicious pancakes we made our way to the zoo, about a 30 minute walk from Sara's.  And given how much we ate, it was a good thing it was a 30 minute walk!  Not to mention it was pretty scenic along the way.  The walk eventually took us more to the outskirts of the city and it was interesting to see how everything changed the further away from the center you got.  It was less noisy, less chaotic, much less people, more modern buildings, but still really pretty and well maintained.

One of many canal poses during the day

My boys

No the picture isn't crooked, it's the house!  Look closely at the windows in the middle one.  Fairly common here!


The Palace in Dam Square

One of the challenges about this trip to Amsterdam compared to the last trip is that Aidan is at a much older, inquisitive age.  And he's much more observant than he was the last time.  And as I'll go into later in this entry, Amsterdam is a pretty liberal city, which is fine - Josh and I are pretty liberal...but to a point.  There is an amazing mix as you walk down a street - residential and retail but also the type of retail.  You could walk by H & M and then the next store will be a "coffee" shop where the smell of pot could knock you into next Tuesday.  But it doesn't stop there as there are many sex shops too.  No, we didn't go into the Red Light District with the kids - but that doesn't mean there aren't shops selling paraphernalia all around the city because it's everywhere.  Aidan pointed out a ridiculous amount of penises during our walk, laughing the whole time.  The one that he got the biggest chuckle out of though was the candy necklace bra - he obviously doesn't understand why one would want one of these but he clearly thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.
 This is awesome!!  Look, she's wearing a candy bra!  Thankfully he missed the vagina lollipops!

We finally made it to the zoo, definitely more than a 30 minute walk but given we were laughing all along the way, it was totally fine.  At first the zoo didn't see very impressive.  But then we realized it went on pretty much forever.  And like our zoo in Barcelona, there was a decent sized playground that the kids enjoyed playing on for a while.  We didn't get to see all the animals but I think we came pretty close.  Not only that, we managed to see several animals feeding which was disturbing and yet so fascinating that we couldn't take our eyes off them.  So an entertaining morning/afternoon.

Liam was in charge of the map

Watching the tapir go into what we figured was very cold water.  That same tapir then proceeded to make the largest poop known to man.... even the boys were disgusted.  Then a duck came by and started to eat the poop.  Yeah, it was a ewww fest on our end, but we were laughing hysterically too!

Liam mimicking what the tapir was doing ;)

Wild dogs at feeding time - no idea what it was before but it didn't take long for them to destroy it.  Boys were in awe... 

Realized after the fact that my camera was focusing on the metal bars and not on the dogs in the background - a shame because I'll admit, it was pretty fascinating to watch.

Wolves - they even started to howl... reminded me of Jake and Sailor when they would howl together :(

Aidan and the gorilla

I was shocked that Aidan didn't have nightmares about this guy

Seems only fitting since we were in Amsterdam that even the insects are having sex...

There was a cool playground area at the zoo so before lunch we let the kids play for a little while.

We made our way thru the last little bit of the zoo before starting our walk back to Josh's apartment.  But first we came upon vultures feeding.  This was even more disturbing than the wild dogs as they pretty much only had ribs to eat, but the vultures actually had what appeared to be an almost full carcass complete with a stomach that I imagine (had I continued to look) would spew a bit of blood upon puncturing.  We didn't stick around to see...

Vultures starting to dig in

This guy kept flapping his wings at the others - his wing span was crazy big!

Looks delish doesn't it??

So this lion starts to sit up and scratch madly at one of these doors - probably begging to be let out due to boredom.  The lions just kept packing back and forth and back and forth.  I was bored after just 2 minutes, I can't imagine the poor lions :(

On our way back towards the center of town, we passed by this place called TunFun Speelpark (  Josh's co-workers had told him about it and at first we had planned to just by pass it, already exhausted from the zoo.  But the kids were insistent and so down we went.  Now this place is amazingly cool and I have to say kudos to the owners.  Originally a street in a tunnel, the tunnel was covered up when a new street went in.  Clearly a decrepit space, someone saw the potential in this underground lair and decided to create a giant play area for kids.  There is still a street, sidewalks and even street lights down there but all along those sidewalks are now giant climbing structures for the kids.  I have to say, it is probably the coolest kid space we've been to.

Picture taken from the level just before you get downstairs - this place goes on forever

And in the other direction - don't know how I managed a shot with no kids but I did!

Exhausted, we finally left TunFun to head to the Apple store and then dinner.  We took a different route than we had heading to the zoo and I'm reminded yet again what a beautiful city this is.  Our kids are very city savvy but they need to now learn to be more bike savvy!  Friday night I just spent dinner watching bike after bike after bike pass by the restaurant window, even as it rained.  Saturday wasn't much different (except beautiful weather).  With the canals, cobblestone streets and tightly packed townhouses, this is a city filled not just with history, but with beauty as well.

I remember these from our last visit - a bar on wheels and you have to pedal to get it around the city.

Yes, because every day you run into a satyr as you are walking around, right?

After dinner of pizza (which somehow took 40 minutes to get to us - it's not that bad even in Spain!) we headed back to the apartment.  A shout out needs to go to the kids who literally walked from 10AM until 6PM on Saturday.  They are troopers and it was only the last 30 minutes that they decided they were toasty and just done with walking.  Again, city kids - pretty used to lots of was just in totally excess of the norm!  And they rocked it!!

Sunday was a little more low key.  Once again we made the trip to Sara's Pancakes for breakfast.  I could seriously live in that place.  Best. Pancakes. Ever.  The kids were even begging to go back! After breakfast we went over to NEMO, the Science Museum.  And it was pretty packed, but as far as science museums go, it is decent.  Not the best we've been to and not the worst.

A little morning tv on the ipad

NEMO from a distance - almost looks like a ship

Way in the background you can see Josh's office right behind this sailboat - the modern looking one that is rounded on one side

However, once again the very liberal Dutch managed to shock even me.  So we're working our way up the museum one floor at a time and most of this stuff has been geared overall towards kids or is at least very kid friendly.  There were something like 4 or 5 floors in the museum.  And on one of the floors - not the top floor, was a floor that was all about discovering your body and sex.  Yes, sex.  You would think they would put this floor on the top so parents could avoid it if they wanted to, but no, it's right at the top of the set of stairs, plain as the eye can see - all about sex.

Aidan of course, was THRILLED as he's fairly obsessed with the idea of sex (which he still doesn't totally comprehend).  There was a display of "puppets" that show how tongues french kiss.  There was a little peepshow area that had dolls in various sexual positions.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm no prude... I just wasn't prepared to flaunt this stuff in front of my 6 and 9 year old that day.  It's not that I don't want them to have the information because believe me, we've already had "the talk" - I just wasn't expecting to see dolls in sexual positions and curtained off areas where you could insert a coin and well... I can only imagine (when I opened a curtain I did see actual pictures of sex acts so I'm guessing perhaps there were movies when you insert a coin).

Let's Talk About Sex

"Puppet" where you can put your hand in (as Liam is doing) and french kiss each other...

Display with a variety of sex positions.. yes, many questions were then asked after they saw this

Anyways, it gave Josh and I a really good laugh.  And it was nice to end the weekend on a fun and funny note.  Before we knew it, it was time to head to the train station and then the airport.  I've got to give it to these kids, they are amazing travelers - while we were all a tiny bit cranky by the time we got home to Barcelona last night, overall, everyone was in good spirits, already missing Josh but happy that we got a chance to see him in his new "home".  And we're looking forward to him being back this Thursday night for the weekend!

Aidan was also a bit obsessed with these fast food restaurants that actually had the burgers in vending machines...


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