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Cruising on the Eastside

March 16, 2016

Roest swings

This is my last Amsterdam post. I have noticed that I could just go on and on and on with this topic, because Amsterdam is so lively, full of great places to eat, play and explore … and because I miss Amsterdam. Always when I see a picture or a video from there I cannot help but thinking that I want to live there again. I’m happy to be back in Finland and Helsinki, it feels right, but I’m afraid Amsterdam has stolen a piece of my heart for the rest of my life. I will just have to learn to live with it. Oh life! So here it goes…

The first destinations of this tour are not in the east, but actually in the centre, although they are on the way to the east from the Central Station. You should start your day visiting the famous OBA Central Library. The Central Library has a fantastic children’s department in the ground floor (or more like on the -1 floor). There are of course lots and lots of books to read, big armchairs were you can sit down, a tiny tepee where to play, small exhibitions for kids and last but not least the fantastic Muizenhuis – a miniature mouse house – that you could stare at for hours and hours taking in all the beautiful details. Upstairs in the Library there is a cafeteria La Place with nice lunch options (you will definitely find something for your kids from here as well, the selection is so big) and a terrace with cool views over Amsterdam.

One of the greatest museums for kids in Amsterdam is the Science Center Nemo. My two year-old learned to recognize the ship-shaped building from far away very quickly and would always point at it: “I want to go there”. It is really designed for kids, so there are a lot of things they can do themselves (build dams in a metal trough, make massive soap bubbles, construct windmills or sailboats etc. – the activities change). I have spent there 1,5–2 hours easily with a two year old and for older kids there is even more entertainment. Because the place is so awesome, it does get crowded during weekends and holidays. However, I would go there anyway. In the summertime you can enjoy the sun at the “ship’s” top terrace and there is a paddling pool with toys for kids. It’s Heaven on Earth!

If you continue a little further to East from Nemo, you will come to the Maritime Museum. I thought (my bad, I know) this would be a very boring place to go and went there for the first time with my friend, because I knew there would be booze and a Museumnacht party. We ended up spending a couple of hours there just exploring the exhibition. Later I went there several times with my girl to see the basic exhibition again and especially the old ship they have in front of the museum and once to a whale special exhibition. The Maritime Museum is maybe not as obviously fun as Nemo for kids, but it is definitely worth a visit and better than you would think.

After running in museums you will need some easy, relaxing time and food. Continue even further to east to a beautiful bohemian restaurant and city beach called Roest. At the back of the city beach area they have a combination of a jungle gym and swings. It’s not any standard plastic jungle gym, but a self-made wooden gym with ropes, swings and hanging car tyres (see the top picture!). Very entertaining both for adults and kids! If you have some shovels and buckets with you, you can easily spend an entire afternoon playing, eating and drinking here.

I assume this would be day two or three already when you hop on your bike and go to see the Amsterdam Artis Zoo. There are plenty of things to see here, but what I especially like about it is that it is not too big. I have been to Artis so many times, both in the pre-child and post-child eras, that I now know the place like my own pockets. If you are hungry already when you step in, on the right side of the entrance there is a small petting zoo where you can buy poffertjes (tiny pancakes) before starting off. At the back of the zoo there is a huge jungle gym with long slides that your kids will love. There is also a place where they can play with water (there is a water pump they can use). This said, if you plan to go there – and you will if they see the place – take a pair of boots or/and an extra set of clothes with you. In front of the playground there is a restaurant with a terrace called Cheetah. It’s also ok to eat your own food at the terrace. At least I’ve done that several times and no one complained. In general Dutch always have their own sandwiches with them and they eat them wherever they want. It’s like a basic human right in the Netherlands: the right to eat your lunch sandwich wherever you want whenever you want (can also happen while biking). My favourite places in Artis are the Butterfly and Monkey Houses.

Very close to the Artis Zoo is the Botanical Garden. It is not a big place, but it’s beautiful and cosy with a little cafeteria where you can go get breakfast and lunch. It’s definitely a good place to start your morning or have a little rest during the day.

If you are dreaming of a little beach holiday, your dreams come true further away in the east on a bohemian city beach called Blijburg. I always recommend biking, but you can get there by tram as well. In the summer time there is at least one restaurant at the beach to serve you drinks and food.

However, if you are dreaming of beaches on a bigger scale, then I would recommend you go to Zandvoort aan Zee. That’s NOT East Amsterdam, but it is a little town by the North Sea to the West.

Zandvoort

The train from Amsterdam takes about 40 minutes, and the walk from the train to the beach 5-10 minutes. The beaches are endless and clean and hardly ever crowded and the restaurants offer nice food. Check out beach club Far Out for a chilled out beachfront terrace with good music. Like I said in the beginning, I could go on and on with writing about Amsterdam and the fun things you can do there and in the nearby areas and yes, now I find myself writing about Zandvoort. I simply cannot NOT mention Zandvoort, because I’ve been there soooo many times and spent there such historical moments as my last “childless” holiday and my girl’s first birthday. Anyway, it has to be my last tip for this series…. for now. J Go to Amsterdam! Go and enjoy! Let me know if you have any questions!

 

Travel

Culture and Countryside trip to the North of Amsterdam

March 1, 2016

bike path noord

When we moved to Amsterdam we did our first longer bike trips to the district Amsterdam Noord – the North of Amsterdam – and then we went again, and again and again over the years. When you cross the IJ on one of the free ferries (“pontjes”), and the bikes and scooters zoom off to the horizon from the boat, you can already feel how the busyness of the central Amsterdam fades away. You suddenly find space for your thoughts and for your own bike on the bike lane.

The boats to the North leave from behind Central Station and the ride to the other side is free. There are three different boats so pay attention which one you get onto!

The boat to the NDSM takes you to the old shipyards where you can find one of the best flea markets in Europe, IJ-Hallen. It’s open once per month (Sat and Sun). There is a small entry fee but if you are into second hand and flea markets, it’s worth it. Take some coins with you to pay your entry fee, because then you will most likely not have to queue: you can pay your ticket with an even sum to a guy who will walk next to the line and tell that if you have cash, you can just pay him and walk in.

After the market you should go and check out a couple of the nice, bohemian bars and restaurants in the area. First, there is Pllek that also has a city beach in front of the restaurant in summer time and Noorderlicht a little further away, because it is just an amazing place. Check some pics from here so you will understand!

For the bike trips we always took the boat to Buiksloterweg which is just opposite Central Station and the boat trip takes less than five minutes. The architecturally amazing film museum EYE is just to the left when you reach the North side and is definitely worth a visit even if you are not interested in the exhibitions (read = if your little ones are not interested, because why would you not be interested in movies otherwise??). Inside the EYE building there is a beautiful amphitheatre and big windows facing towards the water and Amsterdam, so you can see the city from a new point of view. You can always find people hanging around there, talking, having drinks and resting their feet. At the bottom of the amphitheatre there is a restaurant and if the weather is good, there is a large terrace outside, obviously, with the most amazing views.

From EYE you can go back to where you arrived on the boat and follow the canal along Buiksloterweg all the way to Noorderpark. There are a lot of events organized in the park and a lovely and quite adventurous wooden jungle gym for kids where you can even cross a little canal on a swaying bridge. Close to the jungle gym there is a tiny cafeteria called Noorderpark Bar which is open on Sundays (also every Sunday there is music and programme for kids!). They serve drinks and some food and snacks. We went once to Noorderpark to see a little local circus group perform and it was a massively successful family trip, not least because the show lasted only about half an hour which is the perfect time for a two year olds attention span.

A little further down the canal at Noordhollandschkanaaldijk 19 there is a lovely petting zoo with sheep, chicken, ponies & some toys for kids as well. If you make it here with little kids you can already congratulate yourself and maybe turn back towards the ferry. However, IF you and your kids are hardcore bikers (or you have a bakfiets where the little ones can take a nap) you can make it a real adventure and bike all the way to Durgerdam. It’s about 10 kilometers to the east. There are great bike paths and already on this small trip you will see the beauty of Dutch countryside and this charming tiny village by the sea will not disappoint you. It is just one line of old wooden houses facing the sea, behind them are just the flat fields – it is so, so beautiful! We always had a break at De Oude Taveerne at Durgerdammerdijk 73. They have a nice terrace/pier where you can have your drinks and snacks and in the summer you can take a dip in the water from the pier as well.

durgerdam pier

The shortest way back to Amsterdam is about 7 kilometers, so it is not a trip for everyone, but if you are up for a challenge and some sweating, this is your chance to see a bit of “The Netherlands” as well during your trip to Amsterdam which is hardly a representation of the rest of the country.

Also good to know: tram number 26 takes you relatively close to Durgerdam if you want to make a bike-tram combo tour there.

 

Travel

Exploring Jordaan with Kids

February 16, 2016

Jordaan cat pic

There are many cute areas in Amsterdam, but Jordaan is probably the cutest. Despite the large amount of tourists in the area it is still a place where real people live, work and do their everyday things. Jordaan is full of nice restaurants and cafes and often the streets resemble a small village with children playing, and people having drinks and eating on the narrow terraces, and chatting with friends, neighbours and fellow shop owners. The Noordermarkt square has an organic farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and a flea market on Monday mornings that you should go and check out. At the Saturday organic market you can have breakfast or lunch or gather ingredients for a nice picnic later on for yourself. On Saturdays there is also another, bigger market on nearby Lindenstraat which is definitely worth a visit. Westerstraat is less cute but has also plenty of shops and restaurants for the hungry ones.

My favourite street in Jordaan is Tweede Tuindwarsstraat. It is squeezed in between two other almost equally lovely streets Tweede Egelantiersdwarsstraat and Tweede Anjeliersdwarsstraat (not to be completely confused check the area from the map: it is one street where every block has their own street name). There is a nice Italian restaurant called La Perla that makes great pizzas, for coffee and/or beer I would stop by at Café de Tuin. Pinxtos restaurant La Oliva has a great selection of pinxtos sandwiches and the Japanese Pancake World a little further down the road is a great place to eat as well. La Oliva is often very busy so make sure to have a reservation (their address is Egelantiersstraat 122-124 as they are in the corner of the two streets) and the Japanese Pancake World is often closed for a longer time in the winter so check that out before getting fixated on a Japanese pancake lunch. For hot days there is a small ice cream shop Monte Pelmo’s IJs. In between the cafes and restaurants there are a lot of small boutiques that sell new and second hand items. If for some mysterious reason I would have to live the rest of my life on one street, I would choose Tweede Tuindwarsstraat.

Tweede Tuindwarsstraat was also on the way from our home to our favourite playground, the Kip and Konintje (Chicken and bunny) in the end of Slootstraat where I have spent countless afternoons playing with my girl and having picnics. First of all the playground is surrounded by houses so there is no traffic anywhere nearby and the chance of escape is zero if you keep an eye on the only gate there is (the handle is also so high that little ones will not reach it). In accordance with the name there is a small house with chickens and bunnies for the kids to look at. There are a lot of small bikes available, swings, sandpit and a small slide. I think it is the best playground for toddlers, but not necessarily so interesting for the bigger kids. For parents there are chairs and a picnic table where you can have a nice lunch together with your family. When the sun starts to shine in the spring you can choose a sunny corner from the playground and enjoy the warmth while your kids play in a safe environment. Because it is in an enclosed inner yard there is also no wind, which makes it the warmest corner of the city basically any time of the year.

Travel

Go West!

February 8, 2016

amsterdam with kids part II

I was claiming that after the move I will rise from the northern piles of powder snow stronger and more productive than even, but no, no, no – it was not me rising but the little devil called influenza. Now that the all family influenza camp is over and before I let all my thoughts go towards our new exotic home city of Helsinki, I will first finish my Amsterdam series for traveling parents. So here goes my main advice: go to Westerpark, you will not be disappointed!

Now Vondelpark is the one Amsterdam park which dominates the tourist guidebooks – it’s beautiful and there are a lot of activities for kids and I highly recommend you go there as well – BUT I dare to claim that for families Westerpark has even more to offer.

In the summer months there is a nice, big paddling pool and it is not quite as busy as the Vondelpark pool. From the kiddie pool you can continue to a playground called SamSam (Gosschalklaan 6-8, there is a daycare that carries the same name), which is just a couple of minutes’ walk away. Samsam has two separate sections: one for bigger kids and another one for toddlers. I used to go a lot to the toddler area as they have tiny swings the kids can try out on their own, as well as a small slide and trampolines (= your toddler won’t need your help all the time, but can explore on his/her own and you can have a coffee… having coffee is so important). The cherry on top are the clear fences around the playground, so a successful escape attempt is highly unlikely.

There are also plenty of restaurants in Westerpark. In the summer Westergasfabriek has an IJscuypje ice cream shop (Gosschalklaan 7), that in my opinion sells the best ice creams in Amsterdam. For food I usually go to Pacific Parc: it is easy to enter with a pram, there is lots of space and interesting deco that your kids can look at, and good music. In the winter they can have a natural fire in a stove inside which feels so sweet and is nice to look at, but you might not want to sit next to it if you have kids that are still in the age when being drawn towards the self-destructive forces of Thanatos is their major daily activity. Pacific Parc also has high chairs and a diaper changing station in the toilet.

Westerpark also offers a De Bakkerswinkel bakery café where I went regularly already before having a kid, but even more after having a child. At least two of their locations (West and Centre) have got a kids’ corner with toys and pens and paper for drawing. It sounds a bit boring, but you should go for their sandwiches where you can pick your spreads and fillings yourself. Actually: in general you should always go for sandwiches when in the Netherlands as the Dutch know how to make them. And never leave a Bakkerswinkel without buying a jar of their passion fruit curd. It is possibly no less than the most delicious jam on Earth.

Westergasfabriek is also home to one of the nicest Sunday markets in the city. They sell different kinds of foods and handicraft and the market is always filled with families and kids running around. And you think this was it? No, no, no. If you continue deeper into Westerpark, you will find a nice petting zoo (Kinderboerderij Westerpark, check opening hours, not necessarily open every day!) with a small playground. Opposite to the petting zoo there is an entry to the Westerpark Natuurtuin where you can take a walk with whole family, see birds and read a little about the nature and animals in the area.

Finally, the last place around Westerpark is such a treat that I recommend you make a separate trip there or at least make sure you have 1-2 hours to play and relax. Buurtboerderij Ons Genogen (Spaarndammerdijk 319, ) is a little piece of heaven just on the other side of the railway track from Westerpark: there is a cafeteria/restaurant, beautiful terrace and garden with tables surrounded by fields where horses and sheep run around. They organize different kinds of events and you can rent the place for parties. We had our daughter’s second birthday there so it goes without saying that I have so many good memories of the place. They also have a small charity shop where you can bring your own stuff and take something with you for free.

These are my favourite activities in Westerpark. Hope you enjoyed. There will be more tips soon on a few new areas – and after that I’ll start focusing my writing on life in Helsinki (and visiting the city with kids of course)!

Travel

Amsterdam with Kids, Part I

December 21, 2015

amsterdam with kids part I

Amsterdam is a great city for kids and parents, both to live in and to visit. There are so many things to do. Even though the Dutch will not hijack your child and drown them to kisses like the Italians and Spanish do, I have never felt that I’m NOT welcome somewhere just because I walk in with my kid.

I have soon lived in Amsterdam for five years (and moving out in the end of December now, these posts are my way to say goodbyes). The first three no-kids years we biked in and around Amsterdam, checked out most of the museums and a lot of bars, pubs and restaurants. Now the last two years it’s been playground crawling instead of pub-crawling. Either way I have felt exhausted and hang-overish in the mornings which means it must have been fun! I want to share with you some of my favourite places I go to with my girl and also a couple of general tips that can make your visits even nicer.

Eating Out and How to Pay the Bill

A lot of Amsterdam cafes, restaurants and shops are tiny. If you can use a carrier instead of a pram, you will be able to enter more places more easily. However, if you need or prefer a pram, don’t worry. I basically go anywhere I want with the pram as well, but especially in the tiny places, I stop at the counter and ask where it would be best to park the pram so that it is not on the staff’s way all the time. Also many restaurants and cafes are not as small as they look like from the outside, but consist of different levels or several rooms that you cannot really see at first, so it is possible that around the corner there is plenty of room for you and your stroller.

Another tip I have for you is: even though there is table service, once you are finished DO NOT wait for the bill and get angry. Been there, done that. Walk to the cashier desk and pay. This is a normal procedure in Dutch cafes and restaurants and good to know for everyone, but especially important when you go out with kids, because, well, they tend to be so… what’s that word… patient. My basic rule is that if you can easily get a waiter to your table, pay at the table but if all the staff avoids looking in your direction or you simply have no time to wait, walk to the cashier. There you might have to be able to tell where you sat or what you ordered.

Only in fine-dining restaurants I cannot recommend this approach – although I’ve done it once in a fancier place too. Then I also went and grabbed my jacket from the wardrobe because come on – I don’t have the whole evening! We all just laughed, including the personnel, because yes, it is absolutely hilarious that you pay more than 100 euros for your food and drinks and then cannot get the bill or your jacket back before 4 am.

Kids usually swipe off the problems of fine-dining from your table in any case, because…. do I have to explain? Any parent reading this knows the reasons well enough anyway. That said, we have had lunches in nice restaurants (Roberto’s) with the whole family and drove just outside Amsterdam to beautiful hotel-restaurants and had 7-course menus while our baby has slept next to us in a pram (Restaurant Niven) or in the room. Sometimes the staff has organized us a dinner table close enough to our hotel room that the baby phone still works (Mario in Wijdewormer and De Vrienden van Jacob at Duin & Kruidberg). And the good news is, I dare to claim: the best restaurants of Netherlands are situated in places outside city centers, so this is not a compromise you do because you have a child. At the same time you get to see amazing nature and experience a little bit of Netherlands outside the Amsterdam bubble.

Bike or Not to Bike?

Then the last tip. It concerns biking and please, please, do not skip this section because it can save if not your life then at least your vacation. It is true that biking in Amsterdam allows you to see more and from a different perspective. However, if you are not a good biker, do not do it! And here’s why: bike is a serious mode of transport in Amsterdam and if you are a poor biker you are a danger to yourself and many others, just like someone driving a car, who does not know how to do it. Bikes are also not for play and zigzagging in on the road – as well as the bell is not an instrument that you play cause you feel like it. Most often the bell is used to let other people know that you are coming through. Unlike it might seem in essence it is a polite gesture. By using the bell you allow other people to know what is going on behind their backs where they cannot see and they can anticipate what is coming. When you play the bell for fun it’s a bit like causing a false fire alarm. That said, the Amsterdam bike bells can also shout “you are an idiot”. You will know the difference when you hear it. If you hear the latter, think what you did and do not do it again.

Now that none of you want to bike in Amsterdam anymore or got very offended, because you have been to Amsterdam and did all of the funny things I mentioned, I will have to say: if you are a good biker, you should definitely rent a bike in Amsterdam! Being a good biker means you can easily give a turning sign with one hand and steer with other and when you look behind (and you should all the time), you can still keep on steering the way you wanted to go. If you can do all this, but are still a little afraid of the busy bike traffic, you can walk your bike to the boats that go to North of Amsterdam from the backside of the Central Station and hop on your bike once you crossed the water and enjoy the beautiful nature and reasonable traffic. It is extra scary to hop on a bike with a kid, but if you follow this advise I can guarantee you will not endanger your child’s life and you will love what you find in the northern parts of Amsterdam.

If you decide to brave the bike traffic, consider renting a “bakfiets” e.g. a cargo bike. The boxes are fitted with seats for a kid/kids, and even though they are heavy, they allow you to transport more stuff like a picnic basket.

Haarlemmerbuurt and the Westelijke Eilanden

Walk along the Haarlemmerstraat, which is filled with small cafeterias, restaurants, design and vintage shops. Grab a take-away coffee from Vinnies in the beginning of Haarlemmerstraat and walk to the Herenmarkt playground just around the corner to enjoy the coffee while your kids play.

Alternatively, you can also send your spouse to the playground with the kids and go crazy shopping alone. If you get hungry or thirsty, you can stop at Small World Catering for their delicious sandwiches and fresh juices. You can eat at the location or take-away. When you get tired of the shops turn right across the railways and walk around the most beautiful and picturesque area in Amsterdam, the Westelijke Eilanden which includes three islands: the Prinseneiland, Bickerseiland and the Realeneiland. On Bickersgracht there is a small petting zoo called Dierencapel where you can stop for a while to pet the animals and play. This petting zoo is small in size, but the environment and cuteness is overwhelming. I love this place. Not least for the fact that they have the biggest bunny I have seen in my entire life.

If you are interested in architecture you can still continue 10 more minutes to Silodam to see the house, which is a cross-section of Amsterdam society. Different apartment types accommodate low-income families, elderly residents, office workers and artists. Make sure to climb to the terrace along the river IJ and enjoy the views. And yes, if before starting your Haarlemmerstraat adventure you would need a nice place to eat: go to Gebroeders Niemeijer at the beginning of Niewendijk. They make fantastic bread, have nice salads and sandwiches and a small room with toys upstairs at the back of the cafeteria.

Have fun in Amsterdam and stay tuned, because there are more tips coming the following weeks!