2017 NL: Muiderslot – Storming the Castle!

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I think today was my favorite day on this trip! I’ve been to my fair share of castles throughout Europe, but the Muiderslot Castle in Muiden was an interactive surprise – especially for the kids!

The day didn’t start off so great. It was a gray and rainy day. Not one of the quick rain showers we’ve had often enough, but pouring down, feet-soaking rain. The wind was blowing pretty hard, too, so our umbrellas were of little use. Add to the mix that you can’t park very close to the castle, so it was about a 15 or 20-minute walk, and I think we were all a little grumbly.

We were greeted by a horn-rimmed owl! Really – there was a woman standing there, with an imposing owl perched on her arm!

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As we climbed the steep, time-worn stairs in one of the turrets, there were places to stop at different levels and learn a little more about the castle. But on the way down, the fun really began! We all got to be knights and ladies of the castle! They had fun dress-up opportunities for adults and children alike!

That chain mail was astoundingly heavy! I thought Froggy was faking a little as he slowly drudged over to the fireplace to have his picture taken. But it was really weighing him down!

In the next room, there was a virtual jousting tournament, where two visitors can “mount” a saddle and see who knocks the other off first. Froggy knocked his grandmother down twice! 🙂

There was so much to see and do! Be sure to get the little booklet for the kids. They collect stamps along the way and get knighted at the end! We missed this part, and I’m sorry we did!

There is another tower to climb that allows you to go up along the castle wall. And after you finish storming the castle, there are lovely gardens to enjoy. There is a small cafe, too, but we decided to eat our lunch in town.

We enjoyed the old town of Muiden. On our walk to the castle, the rain let up just enough for us to enjoy a swiveling bridge that opened to let a big boat go through!

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The sun had come out when we were walking the gardens. And we decided to have lunch outside in the old town. Among us, we enjoyed tostis, uitsmijter on toast (sunny side up eggs), a smoked eel sandwich, bitterballen (like mini round kroketten), or some even had appeltaart (apple pie) for lunch!

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Is it good for kids?

Definitely! I think Hippo was at just the right age (4). I’m not sure I would have taken him last year. And Froggy (age 7) really enjoyed it, too. It’s so interactive, there is plenty for everyone to enjoy.

What about the cost?

Online tickets for adults are €13.50. Children ages 4 – 11 cost €9. And children 3 and under are free. It is also free with the Museum Card. The children’s quest costs and additional €2. They also offer group prices.

Where is it?

2017 NL: Zaanse Schans Windmills

I think Zaanse Schans is one of my favorite places we’ve been! We went there last year, too, and the kids were excited to go back. They wanted to show it to their American grandparents.

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It is like stepping back in time – minus all the tourists! But it’s not overly crowded. It’s like visiting a village from the 18th or 19th century.

There are plenty of things to see, but we like to go to the windmill first. The one called De Kat is a paint windmill from 1664. Yes, they actually mill pigments! And they still do today! You can even buy little bottles of them to take home and make your own paints – instructions included!

You can tour the windmill to see the large gears at work. Climb the tall, steep ladder to go to the upper level and walk out on the deck of the windmill to see the sails turning up close, as well as beautiful views.

There is much more to see and do here as you walk through the picturesque old town. There is a chocolate shop, a bakery, a cheese shop, and a pewter foundry. There is also a museum of the original Albert Heijn grocery store. It looks quite different than the ones we go to today!

Near the parking lot is also the Zaans Museum and Verkade Experience, where you can learn about the history of the area and take a small tour of a chocolate factory.

Oh, and did I mention there is a Pannenkoekenhuis where you can have a delicious lunch? There is another restaurant and a cafe, if pancakes aren’t your thing. But really – what kid doesn’t like pancakes?!

Is it good for kids?

We took the boys here last year, too, at ages 6 & 3, and they had a great time. It’s nice to be outdoors, and they loved the windmill. Although Hippo had to be carried up and down the steep ladder at age 3. This year, he needed some guidance, but that was all. Then again, he’s our adventurer. Froggy needed some help getting down last year (age 6), as I recall. Last year, we did not visit the museum, as the boys had had enough. But this year they were up for it! They enjoyed the free audio tour, too.

What about the cost?

There is no entrance fee to the grounds, but you do pay for parking (€10 per car) and to go through the museum and chocolate factory. Sorry, I can’t find any info on the prices on their website!

Where is it?

GPS address: Schansend 7 in Zaandam

2017 NL: Van Gogh + Kids?

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In the boys’ Montessori school, they have learned something about Van Gogh – and especially his sunflowers. So we always thought it could be a fun museum to see with them. We tried to go last year, but the timed tickets were already sold out for the day and time we wanted! So this year, we bought the tickets for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam before we even left for the Netherlands.

Even with timed tickets purchased in advance, it was the most crowded museum I have ever seen. And it seems to be like this all the time!

We got the boys the interactive tour for children. Hippo (age 4) was not impressed by the works of the great master. So mostly he and my dad sat on the various benches telling stories. Froggy, on the other hand, loved it (age 7). On the handheld screen, he was given a small piece of a painting and had to figure out which one it was. We had to help quite a bit, especially as he was too short to see over the heads of crowd of adults.

The advantage of the scavenger hunt was that it gave him something to focus on and something to do. But I also wonder how much he really took in? Still, he’s only 7! So I think it was a pretty good introduction – and a positive experience – for his first museum of artwork.

We were surprised by how prolific a painter Van Gogh was! He created over 900 paintings! And what a variety there was to his style! It was quite striking. There were many famous paintings to be seen, such as the Sunflowers and many of his self-portraits. We were, however, surprised to find that his “Starry Night” is actually in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

If you don’t mind crowds, then by all means, visit the Van Gogh Museum. My mother, who is an artist herself, found it very inspiring. Personally, such crowds make me rather stressed, especially with young children. So I might have preferred to take them to the Rijksmuseum instead, where there is a great variety of art to be seen – including some Van Goghs! My mother-in-law recommended the Rembrandt House Museum, but that will have to wait for another trip for us….

Is it good for kids?

I’m not so sure. Hippo (age 4) was definitely not interested. Froggy (age 7) did fine with his interactive scavenger hunt, but I’m not sure how much art he actually saw. But overall, I’m not sure I would have done this one with the kids, in hindsight.

What about the cost?

Adult tickets cost €17. Children 18 and under are free. Entrance is also free with the Museum Card.

Where is it?

2017 NL: Rijksmuseum & Canal Tour

Today was an adult day! We left the kids with a sitter, so PER and I could take my parents into Amsterdam in the afternoon. We spent time in the Rijksmuseum, had dinner, and took an evening canal tour. We wanted to do the canal tour at night, but alas! it doesn’t get dark here until about 10. Since the sitter needed to leave by then, that wouldn’t work!

The Rijksmuseum was quite impressive. It’s massive, for one thing. And the building alone is gorgeous. And it is filled with floor after floor of art from the past five centuries. (Just be careful not to get lost! We had to go out and have our tickets scanned again to get back in!) Too many famous artists are represented to mention. The one that caught my eye the most (because of its light) was painted by an artist I had never heard of before.

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We bought tickets ahead of time and just used our smartphone to get them scanned at the entrance.

We also bought tickets in advance for the canal tour. But I don’t know if that was necessary. There are many options for canal tours. Ours was good – by Lovers (no, that’s not lovers, but actually a family name pronounced differently!). I liked that part of the top was open, so we could take pictures a little more easily. Here are a few things we saw:

  • Some typical Dutch architecture
  • Canals with bicycles chained to the railing of the bridge
  • Centraal Station – you wouldn’t know from the other side that it is built right on the water!
  • Nemo science center
Is it good for kids?

Rijksmuseum: Although we did not take the kids (ages 7 & 4) with us, I think they would have enjoyed the museum.

Canal Tour: The canal tour might have been a bit slow for them. It lasted about an hour. Maybe if we did it during the day – or even in the afternoon as a kind of “quiet time” for them – it would be okay. But that might be something we do with them when they’re a bit older.

What about the cost?

Rijksmuseum: Children up to 18 are free! Adult tickets cost €17.50. You can get an audio tour for an additional €5. Also free with the Museum Card.

Canal Tour: Tickets start at €12.50. There are a number of different options, including hop-on-hop-off tours and combination tours (with museums, etc.)

Where is it?

Canal tours can be found all over the canals. Or you can buy tickets online. Be sure to note where your tour leaves from!


2017 NL: Wintergatan Marble Machine!

When Froggy was 4, he got his first marble run for Christmas. It became something of an obsession! We now own at least half a dozen different kinds. And he also discovered an amazing world of marble run videos on YouTube. Surprisingly, there are several connections to the Netherlands!

One famous marble run maker is Jelle Bakker. While we’re here, we’re finally going to see one of his giant marble runs (or knikkerbaan) – the Marble Tsunami! Check out Jelle’s YouTube channel for amazing homemade marble runs!

Meanwhile, today we had quite a treat! Froggy asked recently where a marble run would go when it was retired. We were somewhat confused by his question. But apparently, he had seen something on YouTube that told about the Wintergatan Marble Machine. It was being retired and would be on tour this summer. In fact, it is on display at the Spelklok Museum in Utrecht! Well, of course we had to go and see it!!

Do you know this famous marble machine? A Swedish musician named Martin Molin spent hours at the Spelklok Museum in Utrecht and was inspired to create his own kind of music machine. Only his would use marbles (or silver bearing balls) to make the music. After 16 months of work, he posted the video of his original music being played by the marble machine, and it went viral almost instantly! This is what it looks like:

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Unfortunately, the machine no longer works. Apparently, Molin created it as he went along – without a plan. So there were some flaws in the design. It also had to be taken apart to be transported, and it had even more trouble when it was put back together. Still, for fans of this extraordinary musical marble machine, it was quite a sight to behold!

I understand it will only be on display for the summer of 2017. But if you missed it, the Spelklok Museum still has a lot to offer! It has all kinds of self-playing music machines from the past several centuries. There are some interactive displays where children can crank the handle themselves to hear music playing. And there is a station upstairs where you can make your own paper for playing a music box (be sure to get the paper when you buy your tickets).

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We also enjoyed the big organ grinders. And when we’ve seen them on the streets or in the town squares, it was exciting to now know how they work!

Is it good for kids?

The boys (ages 7 & 4) really enjoyed the museum. They love music, so they enjoyed hearing the different kinds of musical machines. And they liked working the few that had handles to crank. Of course, for them, the highlight was seeing Wintergatan’s marble machine!

What about the cost?

Adult tickets cost €12. Children ages 4 – 12 are €6.50. (I assume children under 4 are free, but the website does not explicitly say that!) Entrance is free with the Museum Card.

Where is it?

2017 NL: Amsterdam Museum

Today we headed into Amsterdam. AP2 wanted to see the “I amsterdam” letters. We didn’t get a close look. Well, that’s practically impossible! There are so many tourists in front of it – or even climbing on top of it – that you can’t get a very clear picture of it! Still, we got a nice view of the Rijksmuseum, too. Can you find the letters behind the crowd??

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We walked from Museumplein to Leidseplein and then took tram 5 to het Spui. From there, we walked to the Amsterdam Musuem (Kalverstraat 92). We’ve never really taken the boys to a museum before, so we weren’t too sure what to expect. I had images of them trying to drag us through, as bored and whiny children can do! But, no!! They were totally into it! We got them the audio tour, so they loved being able to point it at the different stations and hear the descriptions of what was going on. They also had a scavenger hunt for kids to find certain things in the museum and answer questions. There were so many interesting facts about the history of the Netherlands! (See the picture below about the different sea levels!) In the end, we were the ones trying to hurry them through! And we spent so much time in the museum part that we never even made it into the basement where they have special activities for kids! The museum used to be an orphanage, so they apparently have a sensory experience of what it was like to be a kid in the 17th century. But we’ll have to do that another time!

We continued walking the Kalverstraat to the Dam, but stopped for a bite to eat along the way at Lunchcafé Blom (Nieuwendijk 117). There was actually something to eat for everyone!!! (That’s a big deal in our picky family!) PER and AP2 both had broodje kroket. I had a warme ciabatta mozzarella with tomato and homemade pesto. Froggy had a hamburger. And Hippo had a tosti kaas – kind of like a grilled cheese. And we all shared some frites (french fries). Lekker!

After lunch we walked on to the Dam. There was a bigger Intertoys there, so we stopped in to let the kids spend the rest of their allowance 🙂 Then we walked on to Centraal station to take tram 5 back to the Museumplein.

We ended up spending about 4 hours in the city. And just as we were returning to car (parked in the Museumplein garage), it started to rain! Perfect timing!

Here is an idea of our walk from the Kalverstraat to Centraal station:

Map of Amsterdam

Is it good for kids?

Amsterdam Museum: Froggy (age 7) really enjoyed the museum. He’s kind of into history, so that helped. Hippo (age 4) liked using the audio tour, but I’m not sure he got much else out of it. So this might be something for a child at least 7 or older.

What about the cost?

Amsterdam Museum: Adults are €12.50. Children ages 5 – 18 are €6.50. And children 4 and under are free. Also free with the Museum Card.

Where is it?

Amsterdam Museum: Kalverstraat 92 in Amsterdam


2017 NL: Fairy Tale Theme Park

Today we went to the Efteling. We’ve been talking about it for a couple of years, but I’m glad we waited until the boys were a little older (7 and 4). It’s a fairy tale theme park with a little something for everyone.

The fairy tale forest – also known as a living picture book – has representations of 29 stories! Some of them, I had never heard of! And there is a synopsis of each story in 4 languages. We saved that for the end, though, so we didn’t see everything. It was time to get to the car to try to beat the traffic home!

The first thing we had to do was walk through the Adventure Maze. You know, the kind made out of tall shrubs? There wasn’t a beginning and an end – just go in, wander around, and try to find your way back out again. But watch out for the shooting jets of water! (It says it’s only for children under 1.5m, but plenty of adults went in, too.)

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The highlight of the day turned out to be the one roller coaster that both boys could ride. Well, technically, it’s a bobsled ride, but it works – and looks – just like a roller coaster. Now I myself and not a rides kind of person. So I sent my little ones on through the entrance with their dad and AP2. And wandered around for 40 minutes hoping I wouldn’t have a terrified, traumatized 4-year-old on my hands when they finally came out! Froggy has been on small roller coasters and was okay with them. But Hippo had never been on anything like it. Here’s the description from the website:

Be prepared for terrifying descents! Want to fly at 60 km/h? Slam through corners and feel the wind in your face. No snow, but you still shake in the bobsleigh run. The Bob is a 524 m long bobsleigh run and suitable for all daredevils.  In principle, everyone may ride this attraction. However, children under 1.20 m must be accompanied by an adult and the attraction is not accessible for pregnant women.

Yup. That’s what they did. Turns out, I was the only one whose stomach was turning! Both boys came off all smiles and were disappointed to hear they couldn’t ride any of the other roller coasters! Froggy could have gone on one or two others, but Hippo wasn’t tall enough yet, so we all agreed they’d go again another time when they could ride together 🙂

The other rides we went on seemed quite tame after that. There was a pirate ship carousel, pedal trains, and a steam train. We did not go up in the Thai Temple Pagoda with its super high panoramic views (no, Mama does not like heights!).

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We did, however, enjoy a couple of Dutch treats! Oliebollen are similar to doughnuts – fried balls of dough dusted with a healthy portion of powdered sugar. Usually, you can only get them around New Year’s, so I was excited to have one on a warm summer day! Then we had to choose between poffertjes or pannenkoeken for lunch. The boys won. I wanted poffertjes, since they are harder to find. Whereas you can find a pannenkoekenhuis on every corner – or at least in every town, it seems!

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Even the pannenkoekenhuis had a fairy tale feel to it!

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Pannenkoeken being made in the circulating oven.

One thing I really appreciated about this theme park was the amount of shade! There were trees everywhere!! Don’t get me wrong, we still needed our sunscreen. But even on this day that was not supposed to be too hot – about 75 degrees – we were still looking for refuge in the shady spots!

Is it good for kids?

Absolutely! I’m not sure I would take a child younger than 4. Although I saw plenty of people with strollers. I just prefer to wait until the kids can walk the whole time and get the most out of the rides!

What about the cost?

Well, compared to Disney World, not bad. But it’s still not a cheap day out. Tickets cost about $40 per person, and parking is $10. Only children under 3 get a discount. Although you can save a bit if you order tickets in advance online (which also saves you time to avoid lines at the park entrance!). Once you’re in, all the rides are included. Of course, if you play any of those games to try to win a giant teddy bear, you have to pay for those.

Where is it?

The Efteling is in the south of the country in a town called Kaatsheuvel (please don’t ask me to pronounce it!):

2017 NL: Say Cheese!

We had a quieter day today. PER went in to the office to work, so he dropped us off at Oma and Opa’s house. We took their two small cars to the local cheese farm and clog factory called Clara Maria in Amstelveen. Froggy wasn’t too happy about the smell 🙂  But when we got inside, we got to see a demonstration of how they make wooden shoes.


Top to bottom: phases of making a wooden shoe


Creating the wooden shoe

They actually use a model (white shoe on the outside) as the guide. Then the machine just follows the pattern to create the basic shape of the shoe. Next, they use a different machine to hollow out the inside. The wood is damp, so it has to dry for a day and a half before they can continue working on it.

Next we went inside and saw a video of how they make the cheese. You could also look through the glass to see the cheese-makers hard at work. Both Froggy and Hippo were quite fascinated. And so was I!

But the best part came next: tasting the cheese! There was a simple butter cheese, a mustard cheese, Italian herb cheese, garlic and herb cheese, smoked cheese, whisky cheese, spicy cheese! So many to choose from … and taste! I’m not even a big fan of eating cheese on its own, but these were so delicious! I bought the smoked cheese and a small wheel of butter cheese along with their mustard dill sauce to enjoy while we’re here for the month. Maybe we’ll go back and get some to bring home, too! If you have them seal it (which they do there for free), you can take it back with you to the US!

They also have a wonderful gift shop. Yes, you find some kitsch, touristy items, but they also have some really nice things to get as souvenirs. I love to bring home their wooden tulips (though packing them can be tricky!). And we have a couple of snow globes with windmills in them. Plus, I like to get Christmas ornaments – for us or the kids, or even as gifts for the kids’ teachers.

Is it good for kids?

The boys (ages 7 & 4) were quite interested in the demonstration of making clogs and the video of how cheese is made. Hippo enjoyed seeing the cows and new calves, but Froggy was not a fan of the barn smell 🙂

What about the cost?

There is no cost to go in. They do offer guided tours, but I didn’t see a cost for this on their website. They let you taste the cheese for free! Souvenirs – well, those you have to pay for 🙂

Where is it?

Not too far south of Amsterdam, a short drive by car.

Sorry, Google maps isn’t working on this one. Here’s the address:
Clara Maria Kaas- & Klompenmakerij
Bovenkerkerweg 106
1188 XH Amstelveen
The Netherlands

2017 NL: Dutch Miniatures

Today we went to one of our favorite places with the kids: Madurodam. It’s a kind of park with all of the famous places in the Netherlands in miniature! Want to see the palace? How about a tulip field? Maybe you want to learn how the canals work? It’s all there! And much more.

This is the third year in a row that we have been. By now, the boys pretty much just want to chase the miniature train around. Or Hippo wants to go to the small version of Schiphol Airport and watch the planes move back and forth at the gates. Unfortunately today, they weren’t really moving. Even the luggage was not going around on the little belt as usual.


Here you can also indulge in a little Dutch folklore and try plugging a hole in a dyke like Hans Brinker (who was actually a fictional character created by an American author and has become something of a mythological figure!). Be careful – you’re bound to get wet! The kids can also play with toy barges along a canal with locks. If you’re kids are into water, you might want to bring a change of clothes! Unless it’s a hot day, like it was today – then they’ll dry off in no time.

There are two places to eat: a snack bar and a cafe. My picky ones are challenging to please. Froggy went with a burger and fries, but Hippo only managed to eat a chocolate croissant. They have fruit and salad and sandwiches, too. And this year, there were some little stands where you could get poffertjes or stroopwafel.


Muiderslot Castle


Schiphol Airport

Is it good for kids?

This place is great for everyone. The little ones can play with toy boats as they work the locks on the waterways. Or they can chase the train, as my boys like to do. There are also two playgrounds for children of different ages.

What about the cost?

Tickets start at €14.50 per person. There is no discount for children. However, you can purchase a family pass for 3+1 (why a family is three plus a guest, I’m not sure!) for €49.50.

Where is it?

2017 NL: Finding Nemo

20170718_204603A fun thing to do with the kids near Amsterdam is go to the Nemo Science Museum! We went two years ago with Froggy and had a great time. He still remembers it and has been asking to go again. So this time, we all went. Even from the outside, this place looks cool!

Inside, there are tons of fun things to do. All kinds of experiments and interesting things to learn. My kiddos tend to like the ball machine best. There are several things to do at this station. The lesson is all about transporting goods: preparing the items, packaging them, and sorting them into the right trucks. They couldn’t get enough of it.

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There were water works, too, of course. This is the Netherlands, after all!

Our other favorite was the demonstration of a Rube Goldberg machine. A couple of years ago, when Froggy became obsessed with marble runs, he also discovered these chain reactions. They are often the most complicated way to do something very simple. In this case, the goal is to shoot off a toy rocket. It took over 4 minutes!! Here’s a look at it from above:


It wasn’t just on the ground, either. It went up along the staircase and overhead, too!

Is it good for kids?

If you are in Amsterdam with children, Nemo is definitely a place to check out! Both boys (ages 7 & 4) had plenty to do.

What about the cost?

Basic price for ages 4 and up is €16.50. Check the website for all kinds of offers and discounts. For example, if you have the Museumkaart, the entrance is free! Once you’re in, there are no additional costs.

Where is it?