Two Days at Downton Abbey

Well, Highclere Castle is its real name. Like many American women, I loved the TV show Downton Abbey, and wanted to go visit the place where it was filmed, which is actually a lived-in home owned by the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. It’s only open certain days of the year, primarily in July and August (presumably the owners are at their summer estate somewhere), which must be booked in advance.

When my friend Amber was visiting last month, we (plus Baby R) went for a day trip.

We got an absolutely perfect day, weather-wise. Tickets let you tour the castle (well, part of it) either in the morning or afternoon (between 10-1 or 1-4), and then wander the grounds/gardens the rest of the day.

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Touring the castle takes about 45 minutes, more or less. Sometimes there’s a queue to enter the castle, but not always. If you’re not in a rush, wander the gardens until the queue dies down.

Tourist attire on point
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See? No more queue

Photos aren’t allowed inside the castle, so my pictures stop here at the entrance.

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You walk through the library, drawing room, dining room (the table looked reasonably sized, but I was informed it has 12 leaves and can seat up to 28), smoking room, music room, and the “heart of Highclere,” which is the centre of it all; and you can peek into several bedrooms, including Cora’s, Mary’s, and Edith’s.

What struck me the most was how worn and shabby a lot of the furniture looked. The castle itself is quite grand, of course, and the many oil paintings of past and present family members let you know this is an aristocratic household that goes back a long way, but the furniture and home decor in the rooms isn’t particularly fancy. Well maybe apart from Napoleon’s writing desk. I’d love to get a peek at the rooms they actually live in and see how modern they are. Apparently there are 50 bedrooms in the castle, so you see a relatively small portion of them.

There are loads of family photos in frames all over the tables throughout the castle, plus modern books and magazines lying about, which serve to remind you it’s not actually Downton Abbey.

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There are three different small cafe-type food purchase options all in a row behind the castle, with plenty of outdoor tables; or you can pack a picnic and just enjoy sitting outside on the lawn and admiring the views of the estate. There’s a gift shop, too, of course.

I went back again this month with my in-laws (plus Baby R again, and this time E too, since she’s out of school for summer holidays).

I treated my MIL to afternoon tea in the Coach House, which is an add-on option when you buy your tickets. Children aren’t allowed at the tea, so my FIL was kind enough to hang out with the girls on the picnic blanket while my MIL and I clinked glasses of Champagne.

 

Getting to Highclere Castle

Getting to Highclere Castle is not the easiest thing to figure out. The best thing to do, probably, is to drive there. It’s certainly the most straightforward and direct option, and may even be cheaper than using public transit. Google Maps estimates it will take between an hour and 20 minutes to two hours and 10 minutes from here. If you’re like me and afraid to drive in England, you have to find another way. It took us about two and a half hours one way, door to castle gate, but through my trial and errors, I now think I could get there faster.

The castle website says there’s good rail service from Paddington Station to Newbury, or Waterloo Station to Whitchurch, and from those two stations you can get a taxi to Highclere. However, we had complications arise both times that resulted in a fair amount of stress.

When Amber and I went, we took a train from Clapham Junction to Waterloo, then a train from Waterloo to Whitchurch, and had pre-booked a taxi from there. However, the morning of, I received an email that the taxi I had booked online the night before to pick us up at Whitchurch Station had canceled on us, no reason given. So we arrived at Whitchurch and didn’t have a way to get to the castle. It’s a tiny station in a little village, with no one working at the station at all. We looked at a board posted on the station with travel information, and there was one other taxi company listed besides the one that had just flaked on us. So I crossed my fingers and dialed. We got really lucky that he was available right then, because the private car-hire company is just him. Steve at AAP Private Hire came to our rescue in just five minutes, agreed to pick us up from the castle that afternoon, and charged us £20 each way, which was less than we had paid online for the other company.

So I thought I had it figured out for the second trip, but no. There are major issues at Clapham Junction and Waterloo this month while they are constructing more platforms (or wider platforms? or longer platforms? I am not really sure, I just know it’s a huge pain in the ass to get anywhere right now), so we had to figure out a way that didn’t involve going through Waterloo. We also had to get to Clapham Junction extra early, because they’ve been warning that you may have to queue for 45 minutes to enter the station or board a train, because there are fewer trains running. Also, Steve from AAP was already booked for the morning, so we had to go with a different private car hire out of Whitchurch, who was going to charge us £35 instead of £20, ugh.

It was actually all going pretty smoothly to start, we didn’t have trouble getting into the station or onto the platform… but then we got on the wrong train. We had tickets for the train to Basingstoke, and then were going to change to a train to Whitchurch. Well, we got on an earlier train to Basingstoke, which turned out to be the slow train that called at a lot of different stations, rather than the train we were supposed to be on that was scheduled to leave 6 minutes later but was direct. Which meant we were going to miss our connecting train to Whitchurch. Which departs only once an hour.

In a flurry of frustration and panic, I tried to figure out what we could do. As it turned out, the train we were supposed to have boarded was one of the trains delayed thanks to the Waterloo works, so we would have missed our connection anyway. Eventually I came upon a solution that worked out even better: I got a taxi to pick us up at Basingstoke once we arrived, and for some reason, even though it’s farther, he only charged us £20! I don’t know why the castle website doesn’t list Basingstoke as an option, but it’s definitely easier to get a taxi from there than from Whitchurch, and it’s the same price.

Now I finally know the best way to get there from where I live: Train from Clapham Junction to Basingstoke (42 minutes), then taxi from Basingstoke (about 25 minutes; call ahead to order one; we used Alpha Cars.

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A Proper English Garden

Going from a house with a big yard and lawns that needed quite a bit of regular maintenance to a house with a small “garden” that’s literally just a patio made us really lazy when it came to plant upkeep. We pretty much didn’t do anything back here for almost a year, other than buy a new patio table set.

But finally this summer, we realised the old bamboo planters had had it. Everything was either dead or now weeds, and the planter pots themselves were literally crumbling. Yikes, what an eyesore!

Before

We went to Battersea Flower Station, which is a cute name if you are familiar with Battersea Power Station, and asked for some advice on container planting. We ended up buying a bunch of plants for some new planters (which I bought at Homebase), seven different herb plants for me to grow an herb garden, plus a strawberry plant for E.

Battersea Flower Station

I spent some time planting it all, added some fairy lights to the lattice, and voila! A much more visually pleasant space in which to spend our summer evenings.

After

Our entire back wall between the kitchen and the garden is an accordion glass door, so we can open up the whole wall and it’s like one big indoor-outdoor room, which we absolutely love. (It helps that there aren’t big bitey mosquitoes here.)

My herb garden has exploded, too. I’ve had to make and freeze batches of pesto because my basil just went crazy. I don’t even know what to do with all the sage and mint that have gone wild. Come by, bring some gin, and I’ll make you a minty G&T.

One Week, Two Very Different Plays

Seems I’ve been on a theatre kick lately, judging by this being the third post in a row about shows I’ve seen recently. Honestly, with the state of the world lately—and the disturbing news coming out of our home country, in particular: North Korea and Trump tossing serious threats back and forth, white supremacists marching through the University of Virginia, Baltimore calling for a 72-hour “cease-fire” like it’s a war zone because there have been 208 homicides this year so far, and it’s only August!—can you blame me for wanting to mentally escape the real world for a few hours?


This week M and I had a date to see Hamlet. Specifically, to see Andrew Scott play Hamlet. If you’ve watched Sherlock on TV, then you’ll know Andrew Scott as the insane villain Moriarty. Hamlet sounded like the perfect role for him, and we were eager to see him perform live. We were kind of amazed we were able to get tickets on fairly short notice. Thank you to M’s parents who babysat for us that night!

No, sadly, WineGums are not made with actual wine

When we got to our seats in the stalls of the Harold Pinter Theatre, I looked in the programme and discovered Ophelia was being played by Jessica Finchley Brown, aka Downton Abbey‘s Lady Sybil! Even better! This is now the fourth Downton actress I’ve seen on the stage; we saw Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) and Zoe Boyle (Lavinia) in a Noël Coward play in Bath last summer, and my mom and I saw Dame Maggie Smith (the inimitable Dowager Countess, of course) years ago on the West End in a two-woman play alongside Dame Judy Dench. But back to the present.


The play, particularly the acting, was phenomenal. It was set in modern-day Denmark, and I especially liked how they incorporated the use of video. I must have seen and read Hamlet at least half a dozen times over the years, and this was easily the best.

An unabridged Hamlet is long, of course. It started at 7 and ended at 10:50. And it got uncomfortably warm in the theatre near the end. But all in all, it was a great night at the theatre.

A few nights later, we took my in-laws to see The Book of Mormon.

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Talk about a completely different show! I had seen it before, several years ago, with my parents in Portland when it was on tour, but had forgotten much of it. While it does aim to offend, the irreverent musical is highly entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny.

It’s been a good run of theatre lately, while we’ve had visitors in town. Anyone else want to come visit and give me an excuse to go see a show?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (No Spoilers)

I have had the good fortune of seeing this incredible play not just once, but twice, as I saw it last year in June when it was still in previews, before the script was published as a book. I think I may have mentioned before that I’m a big Harry Potter fan…

When the play was first announced, sometime in 2015 (long before we knew we’d be moving to London), M and I signed up for the emails about the show, to find out when tickets would go on sale. We followed all the rules they laid out about how to get into the queue to buy tickets online, which involved registering by a certain day and I don’t remember what else. Then at the moment they went on sale, I sat at my computer and crossed my fingers and waited for my turn to purchase.

Apparently the number of people trying to buy tickets in the UK was so high it crashed the site there, but I think because I was in America, and not as many people were trying to get tickets to a show in London, I got lucky. I was able to purchase six tickets for when it was in previews in June 2016. Then I emailed M’s family and said, Who wants to take a vacation to London next June??

So we planned a trip here before knowing we’d be moving here just a month later, all around seeing this play. And it was worth the trip.

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June 2016

It’s in two parts, a little shy of 3 hours each, and you have the choice of seeing Part One one evening and Part Two the next evening, or Part One at a 2 p.m. matinee and Part Two the same day at 7:30 p.m. Yes, nearly 6 hours spent sitting in a theatre seat. Yes, it’s worth it.

But my No. 1 recommendation is DON’T READ THE SCRIPT FIRST. It will ruin all the plot surprises for you. If you think that at any point you might see this play (it’s coming to Broadway next year, I think, so certainly it will go on tour across America at some point), do yourself a favor and just wait and not spoil the story by reading the published script.

For one thing, the script is just the dialogue. It’s not like one of J.K. Rowling’s novels, where the descriptions set the scene for you. I read it after it was published last July, and I think it would be a disappointing read for someone who has read the HP books.

When you see the story unfold on stage before your very eyes, with special effects and props and music, the effect is simply magic. I was spellbound.

So when my friend Amber wanted to try to get tickets when the next round were released for this year, and asked if I would go see it again with her, I said absolutely!

Yeah, we made Gryffindor fascinators, ’cause we fancy like that. (Don’t worry, we took them off before the play started, so we didn’t block anyone’s view.)

The opening set

Only a few original cast members are still in it a year later, but it was just as wonderful as I remembered. I’d even forgotten a few things and so was captivated all over again. It’s just a joy to watch.

I also took the opportunity to reuse the Butterbeer cups I got at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. They don’t sell Butterbeer at the theatre bar (major oversight, if you ask me), so that’s champagne.

Thinking about selling Harry Potter fascinators on Etsy… who wants to buy one?

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Much Ado About Shakespeare’s Globe 

Something I’d been wanting to do in London was go see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

When we were planning our friends Amber and Justin’s visit from Baltimore, I suggested this as an option to them, and they said yes right away. Justin teaches English, so this was right up his alley, and we’ve all four gone to the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s summer outdoor performances several times over the years.

This was a lot less hot and had way fewer mosquitoes, but is still open-roof. The Globe is right on the south bank of the river, and it’s modeled after Shakespeare’s first London theatre.

“The reconstruction is as faithful to the original as modern scholarship and traditional craftsmanship can make it, but for the time being this Globe is—and is likely to remain—neither more nor less than the ‘best guess’ at Shakespeare’s theatre,” reads our programme.

You can buy tickets for seats, which are just hardwood benches (rent a cushion for a pound, it’s worth it; pro tip: buy tickets for seats in a back row of a section, then you won’t need to also rent a seatback, which cost £3), or you can pay just £5 to watch the play from the standing area, called “the yard,” in front of the stage. Those people looked very uncomfortable, shifting their weight from leg to leg for three hours. And it rained on them (the seats are all under cover).

We saw Much Ado About Nothing, which I’ve seen before, but the beautiful thing about Shakespeare’s plays is that directors set them in different times and places, so each production is very different from the ones you’ve seen elsewhere.

This one was set in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, which totally worked! I loved the way they used that time and place to set the play, and the music and dancing were enchanting.

Before the play, we went out to dinner at the Oxo Tower restaurant, and sat out on the deck overlooking the Thames and the city.

After the play, we walked along the river as lightning flashed over St. Paul’s Cathedral, turning the sky purple.

​And we enjoyed this police boat’s little bit of humour, as well.

Watching the Wimbledon

The Wimbledon tennis championships are a big deal here, as you may have guessed, and I really wanted to go. Turns out it’s not so easy to get tickets. You have to put your name in sometime before Christmas and hope you get lucky, or else have a connection to get you tickets. And if you don’t get tickets ahead of time, you join The Queue.

There are a whole bunch of rules about queuing for Wimbledon tickets, but in a nutshell, you have to get there really, really early, or even camp there overnight. This is not really an option for mothers of young children.

However, there are loads of places all over London that set up big screens and chairs for viewing the tennis, so a couple days into the tournament, two of my friends and I took our babies and went to the one in Hyde Park for a Wimbledon viewing picnic.

Watching the Wimbledon Championships is all about drinking Pimm’s and eating strawberries, apparently, so that was key for our picnic as well.

Front-row seats
Strawberries and Pimm’s: nailing this Wimbledon thing

 

Then for the men’s finals, I was lucky enough to get tickets to the VIP area of the viewing set up at Duke of York Square in Chelsea. I had signed up for the Duke of York Square email list, and happened to see the email right when it came through saying the booking was now open. It’s free, but limited to only so many people, so the spots go fast.

I got tickets for our family plus our friends Amber and Justin, who were visiting from Baltimore, and we had a lovely time. I didn’t think the kids would last the whole match, but it wasn’t terribly long, so we got to watch the whole thing!

 

VIP seats up front, picnicking area in back

They were serving Pimm’s, of course
Strawberry girl

Now that I understand how it works, I’ll put my name in the lottery for tickets to the tournament for next year, and hope I’m one of the lucky ones!

 

 

The Great Trial of Strength

Today marks one year since we moved to London. To celebrate the occasion, I’m actually turning this one over to M for a guest post giving his take on this past year, and a look at what he’s been up to over here. Take it away, honey!

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Regent’s Park sunrise ride

Other than having a baby, moving my family to another continent, starting a new job, and needing to start from scratch in terms of a social network, the past year for me has been defined by my bicycle (actually, bicycles, much to Beth’s chagrin). I commute on the bike, made my friends riding the bike, and get my exercise on the bike. London has a great cycle sub-culture, and it’s been really fun to be in a city that is clearly bike mad.

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From my morning commute (winter)

When I moved to London a year ago, my longest bike ride had been about 50 miles in and around Perth, Australia, when I was there on a business trip last spring. I rode fairly frequently in Baltimore—daily commutes, a Wednesday night ride out of Twenty20 cycle shop, and the occasional spin with buddies from the neighborhood—but rarely, if ever, passed 100 miles in a week.

Since last year, though, I’ve really caught the bug. I still commute by bike each day (about 5.5 miles each way), but I’ve also added quite a bit of other riding. My mates and I ride laps around Regent’s Park a few mornings each week before work (meeting at 5:45 AM—it is very, very dark in the winter, and quite nice when we start to see the sunrise in March), and I try and get out for a longer ride each weekend. In total, I usually ride about 150-200 miles per week, and as someone that is…ummmm…competitive when it comes to athletics, I’ve really enjoyed improving my abilities on the bike. Between my GPS device and Strava, I have proof and would be happy to share it with you!

My greatest accomplishment this past year came in June, when the Pedal Pals (the unofficial cycle club of five mates to which I belong, as named tongue-in-cheekily by one of our significant others) flew to Trondheim, Norway, for the Styrkeprøven, which translates from Norwegian as ‘trial of strength.’

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We rode the ‘Den Store’—’great’—length, and it is definitely a great trial of strength: 340 miles through the Norwegian interior from Trondheim in the north to Oslo in the south. After starting at 7:40 AM, we finished a mere 18 hours and 52 minutes later, exhausted, hungry, sore, and elated.

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Which, really, is almost exactly how I feel every day here in London. Baby R still isn’t sleeping through the night, bicycling and running as much as I do leaves me constantly hungry, and my legs complain quite a bit about being pushed beyond their previous limits, but I’m incredibly happy with our decision to move to London. I love my job and the people I work with each day, while working in a major city with lots of others in my industry has been fantastic for my professional development.

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Every weekend (could) bring something or someplace new with the kids (or even occasionally without), and the food scene in London is tremendous. Mostly, though, it’s great to just be home with my family. Business travel in my previous role had really begun to take a toll, and I love getting home each evening to see all my girls. The northern European days stretch until nearly 10:00 PM in the summer, giving ample time to eat dinner and still hit Clapham Common for some t-ball, balance bike practice, or beach ball kick ball with now-big kid E, assuming her dinner doesn’t stretch for an hour, of course.

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Leaving family and friends behind in the States was (and is) incredibly hard, but they’ve come to visit, will be back soon, and are themselves getting to do lots of traveling around the continent. And if you haven’t been to see us yet or recently, what are you waiting for? We’ve plenty of room for guests, so please come see us. We really do miss you terribly.

One final thing: many in London have had a much harder year than me, especially those who lost the homes and loved ones in the Grenfell Tower fire earlier this summer. With that in mind, I’m aiming to raise $1 for each kilometer I’m riding this summer in two big events—the Styrkeproven (540 km) and the Ride London 100 (162 km)—to support the London housing charity Shelter. Shelter advocates and provides legal support for those that the London housing market fails, including the residents at Grenfell Tower and those city-wide that are wrongfully evicted or deal with horrendous living conditions. Please help keep London a city that works for all of its residents and consider a donation through my fundraising page.

Some more photos from the Styrkeprøven:

BYOB Comedy

On Wednesday I went to a stand-up comedy show. I know, on a Wednesday, I’m wild. It was also BYOB. But in this case, that meant Bring Your Own Baby.

This company brings stand-up comedy to mums around London. It’s professional comediennes (or at least today they were all women) doing their regular adult bits, but at noon, to a roomful of mums and babies. The entire concept is in itself pretty funny.

They thought of everything. There were mats on the floor, sprinkled with baby toys, and they had set up a big changing table with changing mats to one side of the stage. They even had high chairs available. And also a bar selling drinks at the interval, in case you felt like there should be a bottle in your mouth as well as your baby’s.

Is there a two-boob minimum?

There was a hostess who did a little warmup bit (“There won’t be any wind the f***ing bobbin up here!” (Wind the Bobbin Up is the quintessential song for British babies sung at just about every baby music class or playgroup)), one comedienne, an interval, the hostess for another few minutes, and then a second comedienne. The whole thing lasted about an hour and a half, and a ticket cost £10.

It wasn’t the funniest comedy I’ve ever seen or heard, but then again, I was stone sober. All in all, it was an enjoyable time, and I’d definitely go again. Baby R enjoyed being able to crawl all over and pull herself up on the chairs, and the second woman did a lot of singing, and R liked that. The lyrics weren’t exactly G-rated, but that’s why they limit the age of child you can bring to under a year.

Sometimes I look at Baby R and say to her, “You have no idea how strange your babyhood is.”

Wham, Bam, Thank You, Amsterdam

Or “Hamsterdam,” as E calls it. I started this post nearly two months ago, but it got long, and I got busy. Better late than never, which was my approach to blogging about Christmas in London, too.

We had a great three and a half days in the beautiful city in the Netherlands in May. I’d been there before, when I was 20, with my parents and younger brother. Since I’d hit most of the big tourist must-dos in Amsterdam back then (Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank’s house, Heineken Experience Tour, a stroll through the Red Light District, and what felt like ALL the churches), and M had traveled there for business a couple times, we didn’t feel pressed to drag our kids to places that aren’t particularly interesting to a 3-year-old, or baby-buggy-friendly. So this trip we could just enjoy being in what is actually a very child-friendly city, despite its reputation for its Red Light District and “coffee” shops.

A friend of mine here in London, Ruth, lived in Amsterdam last summer while her husband was working there, and she had a 3-year-old and a baby as well, so I asked her for tips for things to do and places to go with little ones. We met for coffee and she brought her Amsterdam guide books and gave me so many good ideas she basically planned my whole trip for me! It was incredible. We followed many of her recommendations and enjoyed them all. Danke u, Ruth!

Day One

M was there for a conference from Monday to Thursday, so on Wednesday afternoon, the kids and I took an EasyJet flight from London Gatwick. It’s only about 45 minutes in the air, but R screamed for most of that. We had booked her a seat because EasyJet charges £22 for a lap infant, and a seat on that particular flight was £21.90 when we booked, so it was actually cheaper to just book the whole row for ourselves. Thank goodness. I was getting enough dirty looks from people nearby as it was. But the flight was, thankfully, brief, and the three of us made it to the hotel via taxi (a Tesla taxi, no less).

By the time we arrived, M’s conference was just wrapping up for the day, so we dropped our stuff in the room and all headed out into the city to enjoy the beautiful sunlight. We went first to Vondelpark, where it looked like there was a race going on, there were so many people out running and cycling in the nice weather. We walked around for a bit, found a playground area for E, then M got us a couple of biers to enjoy in the grass.

Vondelpark

Getting around Amsterdam is easy. The app I use to get around London, CityMapper, works in Amsterdam, too, so we had no problem finding our way around and taking the trams. When you board a tram, there’s a ticket booth staffed by a person, and you simply pay with cash for a one-hour pass or a 24-hour pass. Everyone EVERYONE bicycles there, so the biggest hazard is not noticing there is a bike lane when you walk across the street. You are used to watching and listening for cars, but the bicycles are whizzing by constantly, too.

The parking lot at the central train station

For dinner Wednesday night, we went to Foodhallen, the obviously named food hall, one of Ruth’s recommendations. We loved it, though we definitely kept the kids out too late. Such a fun atmosphere and lots of delicious food options to try.

Day Two

On Thursday, I took the girls to a cafe near the hotel for breakfast while M was at his conference. Once his conference wrapped up, he met us and we took the train to Zaanse Schans, which is the postcard-perfect little town of old Dutch windmills for tourists to take selfies with.

Zaanse schans really is adorable. When the old Dutch windmills and houses were becoming obsolete, they moved a bunch of them into this one area. It’s kind of like Colonial Williamsburg: a living museum, with people dressed up and demonstrating the ye olde Dutch ways of life. And also it’s full of Chinese tourists.

Some of the windmills/museums charge a few euros for entry, so we mostly went into the ones that were free to enter, which were mostly places with shops ready to take your euros for some ye olde souvenirs.

We went into an old grocery store (the first Albert Heijn), a working windmill that was grinding spices, a bakery (the soft almond cookies and apple beignets, oh my!), a cheese shop where they demonstrated how they traditionally make gouda (pronounced “hhhowda” with a guttural-sounding H), and a clog shop, where they demonstrated how they carved a shoe out of a block of wood.

Fun fact: If you put a baby in a giant Dutch shoe, Chinese tourists appear like moths to a flame.

We also took a 45-minute boat ride on the river, which was a nice way to see the windmills and give E a break from walking and a chance to eat a cheese sandwich for lunch.

That evening, we headed back into the city, and walked from the Centraal train station to a nearby playground Ruth had marked for me on the map in her guidebook. She had promised it was in a picturesque area right on the canals, and so it was.

We picked up some provisions from a little deli shop and sat in the playground, snacking, sipping our beers, letting E play, and enjoying the sunshine and serene surroundings.

That night, we put the kids to bed in the hotel room, and took the baby monitor downstairs to the hotel’s Michelin-starred teppanyaki restaurant. I had never been to a Japanese hot-plate restaurants before, and it was impressive.

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Day Three

When you go Dutch for breakfast, you must have giant pancakes. So we went to a place literally named: PANCAKES!

Cheese and apple pancake

It’s tiny inside, so get there early, or be prepared to wait. It’s very kid-friendly; they gave E coloured pencils and colouring postcards, and at the end of the meal, gave her a little Dutch clog keychain, which is now attached to her school bag. The pancakes were good, but the coffee was actually vile, so we had to go looking for a coffee shop (the coffee-selling kind, not the weed-selling kind) afterward.

It was a rainy day, so we wandered around the Jordaan and the Nine Little Streets area, ducking into shops to get out of the rain.

We came across a bead shop, so I asked E if she’d like to go make some jewelry, so we did that for a while, waiting out the rain. (A much longer while than M expected. Sorry, honey. But how long did you think it would take a child to choose and string beads?)

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I had noticed a print I liked on the wall of the Pancakes! restaurant, which was signed “Eddy.” A quick Google search revealed that Eddy Varekamp is an Amsterdam artist who has a gallery and studio in that very neighborhood, so we went to find it.

We ended up chatting for a long time with the woman working at the shop, who turned out to be his daughter. She said her dad has been working as an artist there since the 1970s, and his studio is just five minutes from the gallery.

We bought both a linocut print and an original painting of Vondelpark, and she let E pick out a postcard-sized print, too. She also let me nurse and change Baby R in the art gallery, how very accommodating!

After that, we went looking for an X marked on a map in Ruth’s guidebook that she promised was a playground in the middle of a street. We found it right where she’d said it would be, and E and R pretty much had it to themselves, thanks to the weather and its off-the-beaten-path location.

I went wandering down a cute shopping street nearby, and a letterpress shop caught my eye. I went in and met the man who owns it and does all the printmaking. I asked how long he’d been working there, and he replied, “Since 9:30 this morning.” Cute. It was actually something like 50 years.

A big W for our wall

He made me some tea and offered me some biscuits, we had a nice chat, and I bought a couple prints.

After we finished our artwork shopping spree in the Jordaan, the rain had pretty much let up, and we headed over to the Westerpark.

After some more playground time for E, Mommy and Daddy got their own playground time at Troost Brewery.

After happy hour, we headed to the hole-in-the-wall Indonesian takeaway place Ruth raved about, and she wasn’t wrong. Make sure you get the aubergine. Trust me.

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And because we just have to stuff ourselves silly when we are on vacation, we went to the guidebook-recommended Winkel for its famous apple pie. Delicious.

Day Four

On Saturday, we were flying back to London in the afternoon, so we only had the morning. M and I decided to split up and each go to the Van Gogh Museum individually for two hours, while the other kept the girls. (Though I did end up bringing Baby R with me. Anyway it’s good to expose her to art!) I had been to the Van Gogh Museum on my first trip to Amsterdam, and I enjoyed it very much both times. It’s doable if you only have two hours, like we did.

For our final stop before heading to the airport, we wandered through the Albert Cuyp Markt.

A warm, fresh stroopwafel

Then it was time to bid a fond vaarwel to Amsterdam, which we did with a couple Heinekens in the airport lounge.

Amsterdam is one of my favorite European cities, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. Especially if you have kids and want to travel, this is one of the easiest places to go with kids. It’s stunningly beautiful, the people are friendly and pretty much all speak English, it’s easy to get around (we took the trams all over, and our favorite navigation app, Citymapper, works just as well there as it does in London), and, as you can see, there’s quite a lot of delicious food and drink options!

 

 

 

 

Sunday in Greenwich

Greenwich is an area of London we had not yet explored, so we took today, a Sunday with no scheduled plans, to go do it.


The namesake epicentre of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), this is where you can straddle the Prime Meridian, where east meets west at Longitude 0º.


We started our day at the Greenwich Market, established in 1737. I don’t know what they sold back then, but today it’s a rather upscale set of craft and food stalls, with lots of vegan options.


We picked up some food for a picnic lunch and walked into Greenwich Park, which is one of the Royal Parks, i.e., owned by the crown and not the city.

Picnic spot

After we finished eating, we headed up the very steep hill to the Royal Observatory, home to the Prime Meridian and a pretty sweet view of London.


We didn’t pay to go into the observatory, but we did go into the astronomy centre and planetarium to use the loos, and touch a 4.5-billion-year-old asteroid.


After walking around up there for a bit and admiring the view, we headed back down the hill and returned to Greenwich Market for some more browsing and a treat. (Ice cream cone for E, chocolate-filled churro for me.)


We went into an antique map shop and finally located an antique map of London that shows where we live, which we have been looking for every time we see a map shop! The map is from 1912 and shows our street, and all the surrounding areas we walk and cycle through. Sold.

The market had gotten quite crowded by then, so we left and walked to the river, and checked out the Cutty Sark, a historic sailing ship: “the world’s only surviving tea clipper, and the fastest of her time.”


Again, we didn’t feel like paying the entry fee, so we just circled it and then wandered along the riverfront.


There was a little festival going on there today, a Latin American street food festival, and everything looked delicious. We had already filled up at the market, so we didn’t partake, though I semi-considered getting another churro…


There are a few other tourist sights to see in Greenwich, such as the Queen’s House and the National Maritime Museum (entry is free to both, also true for the astronomy centre), but that would have been a bit too much for/with the kids, I think. Greenwich was a nice place to spend a summer Sunday in London; the market food, free museums, and amazing views from the top of the park definitely make for a pretty inexpensive tourist day.

Maritime museum

Update: Spoke to a friend today about doing the day trip to Greenwich, and she recommended taking a Thames Clipper boat from Waterloo, as a fun way to get there. And she said the maritime museum actually has a soft play area for kids inside, so it is actually a good place to take the kids. Next time!