A pilgrimage to the motherland (AMSTERDAM! For the weekend)!

When we told our friends and family back in West Michigan that we were planning to move to Belgium, inevitably it would come up and they would say “you’ll be so close to the motherland!”.

You see, I’m 100% Dutch. My husband Michael is *mostly* Dutch (percentages unknown, I’ve decided I still love him, despite my non-Dutch inherited last name, le sigh).

And a freakish amount of our friends are Dutch. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Tall as the day is loooooong. My people you know who you are.

Because if you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much. Am I right?

So when my mother-in-law planned her first visit to Belgium over the kid’s fall break, I knew we needed to take the family to see the montherland for a long weekend.

DAY 1:

We left Belgium late morning, en-route to a small dutch town called Huizen, which is only about two and a half hours from Brussels by car. I rented an old farmhouse for our group of seven through Airbnb, and it did not disappoint.

For our large family, staying in homes and apartments through Airbnb has been the only way I’ve found to travel cost-effectively through Europe. A house (and kitchen) to ourselves with a place for the kids to run? Well that beats two one-room hotel rooms (both economically and spatially) any day of the week.

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You guys, this view is what used to be the stables, where they kept the horses. I think it cleaned up well, don’t you?

After we settled into our home away from home, we drove into the quaint little town of Laren and did some window shopping.

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A domestic flock of deer in the middle of town? Why the heck not! (and where is my stale loaf of bread?!)

Eventually we wore ourselves hungry and exhausted, and found a great little pizza place that didn’t necessitate a reservation. It was also open at 5:30pm, which if you’ve ever been to Europe you know is like the holy grail of family dining with little kids. After dinner we drove back “home” and enjoyed an early to bed kind of night, because we had an early to rise kinda morning ahead of us.

DAY 2:

Trial and error has taught me that the best way for my family to travel is to have one structured activity planed in the city we’re exploring, and then a few other “if we get to it, we get to it” spots to hit up depending on everybody’s mood and attention span. And since my mother-in-law loves to bikes, I booked us for a three hour tour with We Bike Amsterdam. Because when in Amsterdam…

So bright and early in the morning, we left Huizen and picked up a quick 30 minute commuter train ride into the city.

While I’ll never do it justice in this post, our short time spent with our guide Thijs (co-owner of We Bike Amsterdam) was by far the highlight of the weekend. What I loved best about his tour was that he skipped many of the major tourist attractions, but instead took us though the many backstreets of the city.

He was beyond patient with our crew (we were a group of 7, four of which were little kids, one very spry 70 year old,  and oh and I hadn’t been on a bike in like 10 years), which means we became a traveling sideshow. Thijs was amazing, making many intentional stops to tell us about the history of the city, and pointing out interesting architectural features for the endless warehouses we encountered.

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I honestly cannot say enough good about We Bike Amsterdam, and I cannot recommend them enough. Who wants to visit Amsterdam? I know a bike tour….

After biking, we had a picnic lunch on the back lawns of the Rijksmuseum, where there is a fantastic free playground for kids. Because after you bike for three hours, you need to blow off steam, right?

Dinner was at yet another (yes we love it, and it’s a cheap way to feed a crowd) pizza place. We dined at La Perla, and I would highly recommend it for families with kids when visiting Amsterdam. But please, take the time to call ahead to make a reservation so you’re not disappointed – it’s a small space. 

DAY 3:

The third day of our trip we only had one goal: tour the Anne Frank House. Because I knew it was somewhat of a tourist “hot spot”, I admittedly purchased tickets the minute I knew we were planning a trip to Amsterdam, about 2 months in advance.

Protip: buying tickets in advance is an absolute must, especially if you have children. The exhibit is somewhat small and contained, and you weave from room to room in a single-file line at times. If you know you want to visit the house (which I highly recommend), book tickets in advance and you’ll save yourself a few hours standing in line outside.

And it wouldn’t be an accurate review if I failed to mention that I took my 4 kids (ages 10, 7, 5 and 2) through the house. In hindsight, I wish I wouldn’t have taken the younger two through. Maybe it was because I wanted to believe that they could be well-behaved to handle it, or I didn’t really know what I was walking into. But regardless, my advice is that it’s a somber and somewhat religious experience, so gauge your children’s maturity.  I personally spent a lot of time begging the boys to be quite, as to not disturb other guests.

Additionally, I would also highly recommend reading the book A pilgrimage to the motherland (AMSTERDAM! For the weekend)!, as having Anne’s story and journey very fresh in my mind made it all that more real. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos to share from the house or museum, as they kindly request no photos and I obliged.

After the Anne Frank house, our crew headed to the The Pancake Bakery, a place absolutely perfect for both large parties and young kids.

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What we loved here was that they totally catered to children, had attentive service, and really tasty comfort food. I would recommend calling in for a reservation, as I know the house gets packed on the weekends.

After a filling up on a traditional Dutch pancake lunch, we rolled on out onto the city streets for a few last minute souvenir shopping moments (cheese slicers and tulip bulbs!) and a bit of sight seeing as we headed back to the train station.

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(Yes, he totally leaned in and fell asleep on that old lady’s arm. And yes, she loved every minute of it.)

It was a action packed, super fun weekend, and I absolutely cannot wait to come back now that I’ve gotten a better lay of the motherland.

So who’s next? Which of my Dutch friends can I show off my new pride and joy?

International school daze

One of the most frequent questions I get asked from friends back home is: how are the kids liking and adjusting to school?

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The short answer? Really well. So well. They are thriving, making tons of friends, and getting involved in after-school activities.

But there’s always a longer answer.

So for those interested, I’ll break it down in more detail per child. Given we just moved from your average Midwest public system to a private international school in Europe, there might be some difference. Just maybe.

Our day starts around 8:10am when we walk down our long driveway en route to school. We’re extremely fortunate to live within walking distance to campus, which incidentally was the top selling point to the house (other than the windmill view from the kitchen sink).

We can be on school grounds in just a few hops skips and jumps, and I get a mile or two worth of exercise every morning thanks to the commute. Because if you’ve ever lived in Europe, you know the croissant struggle is real. And yes we have to walk passed a patisserie (aka fresh bread shop!) to get to school every morning.

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Piper: Piper is a fourth grader this year, in an English speaking classroom. In Indy, she attended a school for high ability students, so she is used to the bar being set exceptionally set. As far as I can tell, she’s doing really well at the new school and loving everything. Truth: I’m not surprised at all. Our main struggle is finding her enough English written books to read, as she doesn’t love her kindle, something I can sympathies with. After school she’s learning how to play soccer and will finally start violin lessons next week, something she’s really enjoyed back home thanks to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Youth Orchestra.

 Nola: Nola is in the 2nd grade, and enrolled in a dual-language classroom. This means that every Monday, Wednesday and 1/2 of Friday her day is spoken exclusively in French. Even if she goes to a “special” like PE or art, it’s all in French. Also, half her homework is in French. Needless to say, we’ve had some challenging moments at home with getting through homework and then anxiety for the coming day. I’m so very proud of her and her continued French comprehension. Nola has also been loving after school art club and has join an international chapter of Girl Scouts Brownies. She’s adorable and I can’t wait for her to start selling Thin Mints.

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Gage: Gage is in a dual language pre-k program. He goes 5 days a week, from 8:30am – 3:30pm. And for someone who’s never been in school, he’s surviving. One thing I regret about our previous year in Indiana was not sending him to preschool. He basically went from being home with me full time to going to school full time. I’ll be honest here, group settings for him have been a learning experience. You can’t kick friends. Personal space is a real thing. But for someone who’s never gone to school and then the first experience the teacher is speaking a foreign language, I’m proud of him.

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Me & Paul: With the big kids in school, Paul and I are hanging out just the two of us for one more year. Come next September, baby Paul will be enrolled in school just like his siblings (Europeans start em’ early), so the time right now is super sweet. We fill our days with figuring out the lay of the land, and sometimes just trying to run a few simple errands can take all day. I’ve recently started French lessons which is basically the hardest thing I’ve ever tried, but am committed to sticking with it. Soon I hope to join an American women’s club so the two of us can make friends and get involved.

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 Overall, we’re doing good. We are being stretched and challenged every single day in ways I would have never dreamed, and becoming incredibly flexible in the process. There are extreme highs, and there are moments of low low low.

And really, isn’t that the bones to any good adventure?


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