Amsterdam, Netherlands - December 2007

Sometime back in August we had visions of beer, chocolate and frites in our heads so we decided to head to Brussels for our winter trip. Europe is always a good choice for us because the airfare is reasonable and the masses always head in the opposite direction. We booked our trip and we were set.

A few months later Continental Airlines called and informed us that our outbound, Christmas Eve flight was canceled and that they changed our departure to the next day. We really didn't want to lose a day of our vacation so we suggested that they rebook us on the Amsterdam flight and we would find our own way to Brussels. This worked out great for us since we were thinking of a side trip to Amsterdam anyway.

Strong tail winds got us to Amsterdam almost an hour early. The Schiphol airport is actually a fully functioning city with a train station, supermarket, museum, 3 casinos and a shopping mall. It seems to be a great place to have your flight canceled or delayed. We were disappointed that we would be flying out from a different airport.

There were two things that Elliot liked a lot. The first was the highly detailed Lego airport that had him mesmerized. He asked if we could buy it and take it home...

The second was the Planes@Plaza store which is built around an actual DC-9 cockpit and cabin interior. After about 10 minutes of playing and taking photos in here we were ejected. As it turns out the cockpit photos are sold by the store and personal photography is not permitted. I think we did a good enough job and they were free.
We took a train from the airport to Amsterdam Central Station and decided to walk to the hotel which was about a half mile away. It was about 9:00 am, Christmas morning, and the streets were deserted. As it turns out even during peak periods the streets are very tranquil compared to most capital cities. We stayed at the Hotel Pulitzer which was converted from 25 separate 17th & 18th century canal houses. In the afternoon we visited the Anne Frank House a few blocks away from the hotel along the same canal.
The architecture and layout of Amsterdam is amazing. Most buildings are not taller than four or five stories and the extensive canal system was dug by hand in the 17th century.
The stairs inside the houses are so steep and narrow that the houses were built with pulleys on the gables so people moving in or out can hoist their furniture and goods up and through the windows.
Over the centuries Dutch explorers and traders brought back recipes and exotic spices -- and the popular Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table), a feast of different small dishes eaten with plain rice. The dishes consisted mostly of different meats and vegetables arranged in order from spicy to very spicy. It was on our "must-eat" list for Holland and it did not disappoint.

Fireworks at the table are always a big hit with kids.

The Dutch also love pancakes and they can be found everywhere. They are more like a crepe than an American pancake. The menu had about sixty different variations but the one above had bananas, coconut and sugar. Truth be told, all three of us prefer fluffy diner pancakes.

No family trip is complete without a trip to the zoo. Established in 1838, the Artis Zoo and Aquarium is the oldest zoo in the Netherlands and houses more than 6,000 animals.

Here Corinne is talking to the Ostrich about our dinner plans...

The zoo also has a small planetarium. What better place to take a picture with a NASA spacesuit than in Amsterdam.

Time for lunch, again in search of the "best" Falafel sandwich. (See the theme from earlier posts). Keith liked this version a lot because of the large slabs of feta cheese that they mixed in.

After lunch, we headed over to the Van Gogh Museum. The key to visiting an art museum with a pre-schooler is to stuff him with lunch and hope he falls asleep while visiting the galleries. He successfully found Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" and passed out. We were able to enjoy the art and some beers at the cafe before he woke up.
In one of the episodes of the Amazing Race TV show, the participants had to find a specially marked bike among thousands of bikes and ride it 5 miles. We found the bikes but decided to take a canal boat tour instead.

Elliot really loved this tour. He was completely entertained for the full 60 minutes.

As always, he made a new friend who works in the Thai embassy. Elliot told him about his upcoming trip to Thailand in February.

After a "high five" to the Captain we headed out for dinner.

The Central Station at night.

Knowing our dinner plans, Corinne told the Ostrich at the zoo that she may be hungry later (ha ha ha). We ate at a great restaurant called De Struisvogel which translates to "The Ostrich." It was absolutely delicious and of course Elliot could not get enough. The full menu was great and the place was lovely.

A quick trip to the flower market which was totally overrated. We made a special trip there but we realized that we were right around the corner from it the day before when we were eating falafels. As you could expect, it is mostly a tourist kind of place that, in addition to flowers, sells a lot of junk.

Sephardic Jews fleeing Spain and Portugal during the 16th and early 17th centuries established a neighborhood east of the center known as the Jewish Quarter. In 1665, they built an elegant Ionic-style synagogue within an existing courtyard facing what's now a busy traffic circle. It remained untouched during the war and is still functioning today.

Amsterdam was so much fun but it was time to continue our adventures in Belgium ....

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