I think I left off early Thursday evening after Leendert Jan and I parted ways. Going back to our day together, and it even came up in our conversation, that whenever I/we meet up with Four Seasons friends whom I haven’t seen in awhile (it’s been 9 years since I last saw LJ), we always seem to pick up right where we left off. There is rarely even a pause in conversation, which is just a testament to how special those years of my life were. I sort of liken it to going to war together, as the hours you work in hotels are ridiculous at best and the days are hectic and crazy, because you’re usually putting out fires all day. The bonds you form are deep and apparently last a lifetime in many cases. Anyway, it was so incredibly nice to see my old friend, and trust we’ll be back again soon for a visit.
It was still relatively early (5pm) when Greyson and I got back to the hotel, so we turned around and headed to Central Station to catch the last bus tour of the night. Greyson was surprisingly calm and sat the entire time; he even fell asleep for the last 20 minutes or so, which was nice as I could actually listen to the tour. 🙂
While I generally stay off grid for the most part when abroad, I do typically buy an International data plan with a little data so I can use Google Maps when I’m out and about if need be. I forgot to do that this trip, so I’ve been navigating the old school way – with an actual map. And I have to say that I have learned the city and how to get around (without a map) so much faster than usual. It also helps that Amsterdam is actually really easy to navigate, despite all the canals and whatnot (I can’t even tell you how lost I was the entire time we were in Venice a couple years ago). Sooo, after our bus ride, I started walking in the general direction of our hotel through side streets to mix it up and figured I’d break out the map after I thought we were getting close. Well, my instincts literally led us right to the front door – I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I was strangely excited…and proud of myself. Grey and I still needed dinner, so we stopped at a cute little pizza joint just opposite the canal from our hotel and had a lovely dinner al fresco. Date nights with my little guy never really get old. Then again, they don’t get old with the big guy either.
I really like to visit the zoo in the cities we visit, as I don’t really enjoy them in general (they’re sort of sad), so I figure that I can check off the educational component for Greyson, and also enjoy the scenery of a new place for me. European zoos also tend to be older, with really interesting and different elements. More than anything, most are modeled to feel like a garden or park, so they’re strangely peaceful. With that said, visiting Amsterdam’s Artis Zoo was high on our list (the oldest zoo in The Netherlands), so it was our big outing for Friday.
We started the day with our final canal boat ride, then hopped off near Artis Zoo. First impressions: you can get SO close to all the animals! Very few of the exhibits had railings any higher than my thigh, and a small body of water was all that usually separated us from the animals. One of the multiple monkey exhibits actually had you walk in their habitat, so monkeys are running around mere inches from you with no separation whatsoever. All I could think about was that lady with the first-ever face transplant who was mauled by a chimpanzee – these were obviously much smaller, but still…
Not too long after we got to the zoo, Greyson ran into a garden to play for a bit and quickly found a playmate. He was just running back and forth, but approached a little Dutch girl (named Farah, I think) who was 3.5 to join him, so they raced for 20 minutes or so. At one point she started getting into racer position (hands on the ground, one leg extended), so Greyson did the same – it was even cuter than you could imagine. As Farah and her family were getting ready to leave, she said to Greyson (in Dutch), “you can come with us..” as she grabbed his hand. Grey and Farah followed each other from exhibit to exhibit for awhile and even reconvened later near the restaurant playground where they shared a pretend meal at one of the playhouse table and chairs.
After 4+ hours, we decided to start heading back towards he hotel so Greyson could take a nap. I walked around as Grey slept, and took him to a cute Dutch pancake shop near the Nine Streets when he woke up. He seemed to really like his strawberry, banana, and chocolate pancake, but was distracted by the big faux ice cream cone, so he insisted on some of that too. In all, he had about 1/8 of his pancake and 1/4 of his ice cream scoop, so I was mostly proud that we didn’t go as overboard with the eating as we did the ordering.
While it’s probably pretty apparent when reading these posts, Bart was super occupied with his conference once we got to Amsterdam, so we were much like ships passing in the night. As it seems to be the case with all tech conferences, the nights are particularly late with strings of after parties lasting well in to the morning hours, but the morning start times all kick off as those everyone was in bed by 8pm. So we were excited that the conference wrapped up Friday night, as it meant that Greyson and I largely had Bart to ourselves on Saturday. I say largely, because Bart had a 5pm flight to Hong Kong that night. Bart’s not one for super touristy stuff, so I saved our best excursion (in my opinion) for last: Amstelpark.
Vondelpark had been described as Amsterdam’s Central Park, because of both its size and location, but Amstelpark felt a lot more like it – the location just wasn’t as central (it is about 2.5/3 miles south of the city center). My impression is that it is really much more of a local’s park – it wasn’t on any city map I had, I didn’t find it mentioned anywhere in the standard tourist stuff, but I had read about it in a number of blogs before we came. I even mentioned it to Leendert Jan, who has admittedly only been living in Amsterdam for a year or so, but he’d never heard of it. I was excited to go even without the fanfare, but as we made the long walk there I started second guessing myself. Boy was I wrong (to second guess myself) – Amstelpark was even better than I imagined. If you ever find yourself in Amsterdam (especially with kids), this park is an absolute MUST VISIT. I would put it above anything else you might do in the city, other than possibly the boat and bus tours, because those are just a minimum requirement in my opinion.
So, what’s so special about Amstelpark? Let’s start with the playground(s). My favorite thing to visit in foreign cities (since I’ve had a kid) is the playgrounds, as I don’t think anyone else in the world is as litigious as Americans, so they get a lot more creative with all public spaces, but especially playgrounds. The play areas are all in one ‘section’ of the park – there were six distinct playgrounds/play structures, each geared for slightly different ages. Two of them were big towers that involved some death-defying climbing to get to the top of (I might be exaggerating, but they were super tall), then had a zip line to connect them. The zip line was about 100 yards long. The second tower then actually connected to a third with a rope bridge. There was also a little kiddie amusement park that had a merry-go-round with swings, bumper boats, bumper cars, a smaller Thomas the Train steam engine (that did shorter loops on a track around the kiddie area), a whole row of coin operated rides (e.g. a bucking horse, a mini carousel, train, car, etc.), and a cute little restaurant. Last, they had a pretty big petting zoo with pigs, mini horses, goats, donkeys, chickens, and cows – which was totally free. To recap, all of that was just the “playground”.
Amstelpark also had a train that went around the entire park (it’s HUGE), so naturally we had to go on it. The ride was 20 minutes or so. I’m struggling to really describe what the park itself looked like, but it was sort of like several themed gardens surrounded by lush vegetation. For example, we passed one area that looked like a bonsai garden with super tall bonsai (or something that looked like them) trees throughout. There was another area that sort of looked like an art project as it was a manicured green space with randomly placed chairs everywhere – each chair was secured on its own cement pad. Then of course there were bodies of water, winding paths, and even a huge wooden windmill. There was also this adorable “midget golf” course, with scaled down windmills. I mostly like their name for miniature golf though. Adjacent to the golf was a cute little restaurant, and there were a few others throughout the park. We stayed pretty busy at the park for a few hours until we had to head back so Bart could grab his things and get to the airport.
After Bart left, Greyson and I decided to walk around a bit more in the Nine Streets area before going to dinner. I sort of wish we had spent more time there earlier on, as the area is filled with really cute boutiques, almost all of which were closed by the time we walked through. We eventually found a cute restaurant called Dante’s, where Greyson and I had a lovely meal and wine. But the wine was just for me. I don’t share wine.
Our time in Amsterdam really seemed to fly by – more so than usual I think. We had an 8am pick up on Sunday morning from the hotel, so Greyson and I got up a bit early to get some breakfast before heading out.
Our flight home was on time, uneventful, but still sort of long. It actually marked the first time I’ve flown solo internationally with Grey, and it really couldn’t have gone better. I tell everyone this, but I got the best advice when Greyson was a newborn – and it came from a woman traveling with the best behaved 5 year old I’ve ever seen, so I trusted her word. She said, “just never, ever get up and walk with them or let him walk. Even when they’re newborns – tough it out in your seat when they’re little and it’ll pay off.” Simple advice, but it works. It doesn’t even dawn on Grey that getting up to walk the aisles is a possibility. Subsequently, he sits in his seat without issue for 8-12 hour long flights. There was a family with two kids on our Amsterdam to Chicago flight (8.5 hours) who let the kids run laps down the aisles (and through the flight attendant kitchens) for 10-15 minutes at a time at least 4 different times. They were screaming/giggling and running as fast as they could. I try not to judge other parents, because they could have just been survival mode, but in addition to it just being sort of annoying to fellow passengers, it was so wildly unsafe. All that is to say that I appreciate how insanely well behaved Greyson is – so much that not a flight has passed where multiple strangers haven’t come up to me afterwards to compliment his behavior on the flight. And needless to say, we’ve been on a lot of flights – somewhere around the 70 mark at this point.