Amsterdam and the Hague, a short family holiday

Façades in Amsterdam, seen from a canal

Façades in Amsterdam, seen from a canal

Amsterdam, Delft and the Hague are all well connected by tram and/or train. Not all the town centers are open to traffic, so it is easier to move around on foot. Watch out for speeding cyclists and enjoy the sight of the stacks and stacks of bicycles in the stands by the train stations. A short stay in the area provides interest for all the family, even outside the season for Scheveningen beach.

Amsterdam’s canals

A canal tour is the easy way to see the city. Canals are not necessarily what you would call “nice places” with their murky water – a great place to get rid of garbage like a rusty bicycle or a supermarket trolley that no-one can be bothered to return for a miserable 50 cents. Nonetheless they have a fascination of their own, and the jumble of houses lining them give plenty of opportunities for photographs. Each slice of house is different from its neighbors; all have steep narrow staircases best affronted on hands and knees. Each has its own distinctive gable and each has a strong hook implanted in the gable peak serving as a furniture hoist in case of moving or replacing furniture. This is already a strong reason why many houses have fine antique furnishings! Cars and bicycles are parked along the canal edge, in many places protected by a low railing added by the town council a few years ago after reading the statistics of cars going overboard. We are told that even so, an average of one car per week ends up in Amsterdam’s canals.

Houseboats on the canals

Housing in Amsterdam has become scarce so people wishing to stay in the city center have obtained permission from the local authorities to moor old barges and other houseboats along the canal banks. They can latch on to the city utilities, provided they have regular permits. The inhabitants of these houseboats can enjoy favorite Dutch pastimes: living in a boat is just right for a maritime people, the cockpits of these barges often contain respectable little gardens, canal life is right at your window, sorry, port-hole. And when the canal freezes, skating is free.

Museums and Galleries

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is a must for art-lovers, offering a vast permanent exhibition of painting by Van Gogh and his contemporaries. The website can be checked for special exhibitions. An audio tour for children aged 6-12 is available in English or Dutch, and children in this age range can take part in the Treasure Hunt. Creative workshops are available for the kids, too, but you would need to get a group together to have English Language tuition. Worth checking out since Van Gogh is one of the painters best known to youngsters. See: vangoghmuseum.nl.

The Hermitage Amsterdam was opened on June 19 th 2009 by Queen Beatrix and Dmitry Medvedev. Curiously, the building was previously a Home for old women. The last inhabitants of the Home left only in 2007 and a few rooms have been dedicated to these old women, with photographs and the old kitchens. The new structure also has a children’s section and fine restaurant. Check the web-site (www.hermitage.nl/en/) for information about future events.

The Mauritshuis, in the Hague, gives you the chance to see the original painting of the “ Girl with a Pearl Earring” , Vermeer’s beautiful portrait which inspired the 2001 best-seller by Tracy Chevalier followed by the 2003 film with Scarlett Johansson. The Mauritshuis has an important collection of paintings including many by Rubens (“Old woman and a boy with candles”), Rembrandt (“The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp”), and Carel Fabritius’s surprising “The Goldfinch” and an excellent audio tour..

Madurodam, the miniature village: A sunny morning in the Hague is ideal for a visit to Madurodam, a miniature village with houses, notable buildings, Schipol airport, docks, canals, windmills and factories reconstructed on a scale of 1:25. Madurodam dates back to 1952, and owes its foundation to Mrs Boon-van der Starp who wanted to raise money for students suffering from tuberculosis, and Mr and Mrs Maduro from Curaçao who desired a memorial for their son, killed in the second world war. Madurodam presents a marvellous photo-opportunity . The village lies in a sun-filled “saucer” so a summer visit would require a sun-hat! Try not to dedicate too much attention to a mini chocolate factory. For ten euro-cents, a toy lorry delivers a mini chocolate-bar to the happy customer. This seems to appeal greatly to ladies over sixty!

Café service

Enjoy a slice of the local apple-cake in any one of the cafés you fancy. Service is friendly and there seems to be no pressure to hurry you on, unlike many international cities. In fact, you may have to push to be served if you are in a hurry.

International food

Flemish fries are what you would probably call French fries at home – try a portion to compare! And while in the Netherlands, visit one of the many Indonesian restaurants at home in Holland.

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