The beginning of our jaunt through Europe!
Have you ever heard about the Enneagram personality test? I had heard the name of it before, but it wasn't until my husband & I were visiting some dear friends in Houten, Netherlands that we really read about the different personalities late into the night. You may wonder why am I even mentioning this!? But THE FUNNIEST thing happened as we read through the description of each of the 9 Enneagrams aloud to discuss which number we thought we all were. My husband was reading the description of number 7 aloud... and he was literally reading the description of what my family and I were experiencing at that exact moment!
"Having two weeks for a vacation and a desire to visit Europe brings a similar quandary
Which countries and cities to visit? Which sites to see? The Seven’s way of dealing with
this will be to cram as many different countries, cities, and attractions into his vacation
Ya'll, I died laughing!!!! If I didn't see the writing myself, describing the exact vacation I had painstakingly planned down to the hour to fit in all the experiences and countries I wanted to see, I wouldn't have believed it if you told me!
You see... about the same time we moved to Thailand, our dear friends who I have known for over 15 years and who were in our wedding moved with their 3 young boys to the Netherlands, and we knew that we would have to visit them. One of the first questions we asked ourselves after deciding to visit was "How many countries can we visit in 2 weeks!" And so the planning began. If you haven't checked out my resource page yet, I share with you what websites I start with, especially with a trip like this. Skyscanner was my best friend!
You may not realize it, but Thailand is not exactly close to Europe - our flight to Amsterdam was almost 12 hours! The only encouragement was that it was not near the 24-32 hour flight back home to the USA. We wanted to get as much return on our investment so in the end we visited 5 countries: Netherlands, France, Czech Republic, Germany (just for the day) and Austria. Every day was pretty packed but rewarding. We traveled in October and had the most beautiful fall weather! Seeing the trees change to yellow, orange and red while driving through the mountains was spectacular!
We began our trip in the #Netherlands staying with our friends and their boys in Houten. I think we all underestimated the happiness the kids would feel at spending time with other native English speakers. This is something we often forget about, but especially for Paige & Charlies boys where they speak Dutch at school, together the kids were always full of smiles and rambunctious fun. We all loved it! There is something deep and personal and real with friends who have known you for so long and have walked along through all the same challenges of living in a different culture as you at the same time. So many times during the early months of HARD, Paige & I talked (or cried) on the Marco Polo app to each other. Although our journeys have been different while living overseas, in so many ways we understand each other in ways it's hard to grasp if you haven't done it yourself. And so the late night talks together after the kids went to bed were just so good and encouraging for the soul, and the reason we made the priority to visit them.
We arrived to Amsterdam late in the evening and Charlie met us at the airport to take us by train to #Houten. During our visit, public transportation was so convenient and everyone spoke English so it was really easy to use, and easy to ask for help. Our days were spent doing life with our friends in Houten and also exploring the nearby areas of Amsterdam, Utrecht and the Castle de Haar. In Netherlands it is very common to ride your bike everywhere. The first day it was just a short ride to a little petting zoo & park. You ride along these sidewalks set amongst the trees, passing so many people going about their business. We visited Kinderboerderij, which means "kid farm" and the kids enjoyed the animals and the very large playground equipment!
Another day Paige took us into #Utrecht. It's a short train ride away. The town is covered in cobble stone paths, little bridges over the water and some gorgeous cathedrals. All you need to do is wander through the city and you'll be sure to find delicious food, coffee and any number of shops. Everywhere we went in Netherlands was picturesque.
We took one day to go and tour the beautiful grounds and buildings of Castle de Haar. It was really easy to get to by metro train and then a short bus ride out to the castle that left every hour. It is a relatively new castle built on the foundations of an older castle so it is in very good shape and still lived in from time to time by the family or guests. We all had so much fun exploring our first castle of the trip and the gardens were gorgeous!
Another day we decided we would have to go to #Amsterdam. We didn't really know what we wanted to see while there, but we also knew we were so close we might as well. So we took a train into Amsterdam and found a canal boat ride tour. The thing about October in Netherlands is it is rainy season. And sure enough we parked our stroller under the stairs down to the boat dock and it began to rain as we board the boat. The cruise takes you through the canals, passing so many boat houses and bridges along the waterway. Even in the rain you saw a picture of what the city looks like and how its built around the waterways. When we got off the boat we found that the stroller was SOAKED with rainwater. The stairs were were metal with gaps, so the rain just poured onto the stroller. Unfortunately there was nothing we could do about it to keep the kids dry at that point. The rain continued off & on, so although we wanted to go further in the city, we also just wanted to be done. Not only did we have wet, cold and whiny children, but I felt that way too!! So we walked a bit further "into" to the city, and decided to buy french fries for lunch. YES! some delicious french fries!! This was the trip that we said to eachother many times... why do we even bother to buy them a meal instead of just french fries?!?!
Our last evening our friends insisted we go out for Dutch pancakes so we loaded up the bike convoy one more time and ventured out into the cold in hopes that we would not meet to much rain. Between baby carriers, extra bike seats and the Dutch minivan (this awesome e-bike with a big tub on the front to carry kids) we were able move 7 kids and 4 adults on 4 bikes. We met rain about halfway into our 5km ride and right at the start of the long uphill climb towards the bridge over the river. I honestly wanted to cry and give up during the very long uphill climb. We finally made it to PAND Pannenkoek restaurant and the kids piled into the awesome play area while we sat down, warmed up, and learned about Dutch pancakes. They love to load them up with all sorts of ingredients, many of them savory and many sweet. It was fun and tasty and a great experience though I have to admit the daunting task of biking all the way back home was lingering in the back of my mind the whole time. Of course we made it back fine and now all my Dutch friends say I’ve had the true Dutch experience and I’m glad we did it.
It was sad to say "see ya later" to our friends, but such a rewarding visit! The next day we navigated the metro one more time to our station where we caught the high-speed rail through to Paris for the next leg in our fun packed, overwhelmingly busy, quintessential Enneagram Seven vacation.