After 5 weeks in the bicycle saddle zigzagging our way across Holland, we have finally landed in our last major Dutch destination – Maastricht. Located at the southernmost tip of Holland, Maastricht is situated between Germany and Belgium and offers all the appeal of an international venue – but without the hype or busloads of tourists. This is my favorite destination thus far. Cosmopolitan culture, cafes at every street corner, culinary delights, the pulse of international business and, of course, shopping (rated the best city to shop in the Netherlands – ahead of Amsterdam).

Fortunately, I had scheduled a one-week “break” in Maastricht to relax our butts and to offer ourselves some reprieve from our “touring.” To be honest, the break was overdue and welcomed by all of us. We have no agenda for this week, except to soak up the vibrant scene offered by Maastricht; stroll through quaint city streets, enjoy good food, attend a movie (or two), and read a good book.

Today was our first day off and we are off to a good start. Janelle and I enjoyed an early morning walk (just the 2 of us), with fresh espresso in hand, around the city perimeter. We came upon some treasure troves to that we shared with the kids later in the morning: a park along the top of the old city wall, remnants of the wall with arrow slits for shooting the enemy (cool), and a working watermill that is still used to grind wheat into flour (very cool).

We spent the afternoon in cafes, eating good food, drinking local beers, reading books and shopping. Janelle also managed to squeeze in a pedicure – a rare treat. ;) The evening entailed nothing more than a stroll through the market and dinner at a locally recommended Italian restaurant: Il Giardino. Truly, a relaxing and wonderful day.

We hope the coming days offer nothing more but the same...

10 games we play.

We play cards.

Lots and lots of cards. In fact, we were playing almost every lunch and dinner and just recently decided to cut back and play at just one meal a day. We figured a little chatter and debriefing at a meal or two might be fitting. (Conversation, it turns out, is a great place to learn new little tidbits about each other, including how weird your parents were in high school, favorite moments of today's bicycle ride or rating the food).

But cards are a nice way to just hang out, slow time down and in general, enjoy each other's company.

Here are a few games we play, quite frequently:

1. Pirates Dice
2. Nerts (Caleb's favorite)
Hearts (James' favorite)
4. Chicago Rummy (Anthony's favorite)
5. Cribbage (skip the board, we peg on paper)
6. Euchre
7. President's (Janelle's favorite)
8. Spit (not good for tables with beverages... it involves a lot of fast moving... and cola in the shoes really doesn't feel so good).
9. Snicklefritz (Caleb made-up game)
10. Farkle (mini version with teeny dice comes in old film case... hey, perfect for fitting into that little purse I saw at the market...)

And at a recent stay in Weert, our hostess encouraged us to look up the game FLUXX. Perhaps it will be our next favorite?


to click or not to click.

Someone once told me not to take too many photos of inanimate objects. She said, after time they lose their significance.


We have been cycling for 5 weeks, and looking back at the photos from these 5 weeks makes me realize a few things. Most notably that many of the cities and rides are beginning to blur. Which ride was that? What city? Remember the place where there were cows standing across the bike path? Where was that really great Italian restaurant?

We have been to so many cities, hotels and homes (where we rent rooms), toured shops and rode over countless bridges. We have enjoyed great meals, many squares, stopped at bars to watch soccer matches and had a few matches of our own. We have seen piles of sheep and goats, umpteen cows, grazing horses, chickens galore, baby swans and even lamas. We have seen the inside of tourist shops, delft factories and museums; we have sat along canals and tried various tostis, beer/sodas and ice cream. In many ways 'Holland' will become one overarching memory. But how to keep some of it organized in my brain?

My hunch is that eventually, many of the memories of this trip will be based on photos---photos will be my guide. They will serve as cues, as a sequential foot-path of our trip. And I realize... it is moments with the kids I will most want to remember. Which makes me think: the most meaningful photos will not necessarily be the unusual landmarks (canals, castles, city squares), but of usual, routine events. In other words, years from now, I will want to see photos of us eating a typical Dutch breakfast, packing up our gear, sitting near a castle while we eat yet-another path-side picnic and/or playing a round of cards.

Which means here is my upgraded photo protocol:

1. Take pictures that today might seem usual or mundane including: daily tasks like packing and eating, sitting on a bench or kicking the soccer ball outside a tourist shop. Someday, those will be worth far more than today's unusual and interesting: the stone castle, a statue of someone important, fanciful gardens.

2. Take photos of the bad experiences, too. Not grumpy faces, per se, but scrapes along the trail, homes we sleep in that conjure up stories of wading through a sea of smoke---chain smoker---while being jumped on by a dog (who incredibly, was able to jump near should height).

3. Take photos of the journey. The trails, the spots where we sped, where we rested, where we stood over our bikes and enjoyed stroopwafels (which we now affectionately refer to as Scooby snacks).

4. Non family, non journey, unusual photos will include: my right to a creative license (I cannot help but take photos of quaint cycles leaning against paint-peeling doors with iron knockers OR well worn wooden shoes stacked uneventfully garden side). Also, enough photos of each ‘place’ to serve as context for our adventure--the cues I need to remember which city we were in and what we did while we were there. So yes, a photo of the cows and the castle, of the square or the hotel.

5. Think story.

Getting Along 24x7…Yeah Right!

For the past several years my professional career has necessitated a lot of long hours, and too much travel – unfortunately at the expense of time with my family. That was a big motivator to take this ‘trip of a lifetime’ - cycling as a family from Amsterdam to Paris.

In response to our decision to leave it all behind, we got some familiar responses:
(1) “That is awesome, have a great time (can I fit in your pannier?)”
(2) “You’re nuts, why would you give up your career and house to do that?”
(3) “Do you think you can really handle being together 24x7?”

I had expected the first two responses, but the third response---I hadn’t considered. I didn’t think it would be a challenge. Think again.

We are a family of go-getters. All of us set goals, work and play hard, live life with passion and have strong opinions. Back home in Seattle we had busy lives balancing work/school with extracurricular sports and activities. As a result we thirsted for time together as a family, and enjoyed dinners, games, sports (soccer/cycling/skiing) or a weekend escape to Orcas Island. We really like each other and have fun simply being together.

Fast forward 1 month into our ‘trip of a lifetime’ and we’ve now been together for 750+ hours straight. If you consider that on a regular weekday in Seattle we might have just 4 hours together---you can imagine that the transition of being together 24/7 can be a little overwhelming. Consider this mix: I am a Type A former CEO, my wife holds an MBA and Culinary Degree and has equally strong opinions (think Courtney Cox on Friends), and our kids are budding adolescent boys who need our feedback less and less (12 and 13 years old).

Yes, there have been fireworks on a few occasions, but, somehow we’re making it through. And, I am happy to say that we are settling into a rhythm of sorts. A few lessons we’ve learned thus far:

(1) James (myself), the now omnipresent father, is recognizing that his role in the family is transitioning from making decisions, to asking for input. In Seattle, I was the “fixer” of things (particularly when our kids were young). Now, I am working on being more engaging and letting others take the lead. I did give up “leading” the troops when cycling (in an effort to allow the boys to learn how to read and navigate from maps). But, I am working on translating that to other areas of our lives too. Frankly, our kids are so dang smart – sometimes it is humbling and hard not to feel useless (a tough thing for fathers). ;)

(2) Janelle deserves an award for living out of 2 panniers, keeping everyone happy without a refrigerator, and “keeping the peace” among her 3 boys (myself included) who are prone to share differences of opinion. Janelle is “low-maintenance” – thankfully – otherwise this trip would not be possible. She has come to realize that her boys get ‘crabby’ when they are hungry, so keeping a stash of stroop waffles (referred to as Scooby Snacks) around is a good idea (we refer to this stomach-filling as ‘taming the tiger.’).

Notwithstanding family dynamics, Janelle’s biggest challenge has been containing her desire to write everyday given the lack of time and connectivity (despite James’ exhaustive efforts to provide her with Internet access---not even throwing money at Internet Service Providers in Holland seems to work---but more on that topic later). Amazingly, Janelle has continued to maintain www.talkoftomatoes.com and start www.familyfrolics.com while traveling abroad on bicycles.

(3) Anthony is a natural leader and budding plaintiff’s attorney (at age 13), so naturally he and I have clashed on matters involving navigation and safety. I have since given up navigational control (while retaining a right to request clarification), and turned over all “locking of bikes” to Anthony. Anthony recognizes his parents’ attempts to retain control are futile, that he actually often knows more than we do (scary!). Anthony has recently demonstrated some “Dutch-ness” with respect to his willingness to bike ‘suicide’ – down the wrong way on a one-way street. But, still retains a stern respect for safety, evidenced by his refusal to cross an intersection without a green light (testing the patience of the rest of his family who have already ridden ahead). ;)

(4) Caleb is a competitor at heart and passionate voetball player (that is Dutch for soccer). Caleb has managed to befuddle his parents in multiple card games, and has recently ‘crossed the line’ by inventing a new game called “Snickelfritz” (thank you Isabel) – a combination of sorts of Chicago Rummy, Speed and Nerts. While Caleb is ready to play cards at every meal, he’s come to realize that his parents can actually win a game or two (even if we need reminders of the rules every game). Caleb’s seemingly boundless enthusiasm to play soccer, including juggling, kicking, passing on every walk, every street and in every piazza, is welcome fun, but can test the patience of his brother and parents when ‘culture’ has been our intended focus (for an hour or two?). Caleb tolerates his family’s pleas for downtime by redirecting his efforts to his sketchbook – a fantastic outlet for his creative energies.

Yes, there have been a few bumps along the path as we’ve invaded each other’s lives and space. 24x7 is definitely an adjustment – even on a ‘trip of lifetime.’ However, we’ve managed to settle into a good groove and find opportunities to support one another. Above all, communication has been key. In fact, we probably over-communicate: we’re never short on opinions on what to do next, or how to solve a problem. But we are learning to listen better and compromise more.

The biggest challenge for me, as a father, is letting go and watching our boys transition into young men who are ready to conquer the world. (Cheesy, I know, but true). But, I take solace in the fact that as they become map-reading masters on this trip, they will be better equipped to navigate their lives going forward.



We each have a book.

It was requisite to pannier packing for our trip. We figured there would be long waits, restful nights and opportunities to stretch out in the grass for a good read.

Caleb brought the final book of one of his favorite series: The Last Olympian (which he read, and I just sent home) and he also brought a book on Greek History.

James brought The Agony & the Ecstasy---one of his all time favorites---a biography of Michelangelo.

Anthony chose (okay, we insisted because we knew he would love it and trust me, he did): The Da Vinci Code. James and Anthony already read it, and now it is Caleb's turn.

I picked (despite haranguing from James for the space/weight it would consume in my pannier): M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating. Oh and I added a slender little book from the Van Gogh museum bookstore on Dutch food. Loved it---just sent that home too, to lighten the panniers.

In Utrecht we found a small English section of used books in a book store. (We needed to find Anthony a thick book, so he wouldn't blow through it in a few short days). He just finished The Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone (same author of Lust for Life, the biographical read on Van Gogh). In the bookstore, we picked up a soft cover of Pillars of the Earth. That should keep him busy for awhile.

Meanwhile we are figuring out our timing, our groove as a cycling family; part of this is fitting in down time, among other things. So far our chilling-out time varies, depending on 1. the length of our cycle (10 km or 60 km), the length of our stay in a given city (just 1 night or 3?) and whether or not we have internet access. And down time plays out differently for each of us:

Anthony: check email, play itouch, paste postcards/write/sketch/update windmill count in journal, read book, blog.
Caleb: check email, play itouch, paste postcards/write/sketch/update windmill count in journal, read book, blog.
James: check email/facebook, paste postcards/write/sketch in journal, update itinerary/manage insurance/budget/etc., read book, drink wine, blog.
Janelle: check email/facebook, upload photos and organize them by city, BLOG on family frolics and talk of tomatoes, research places to stay in Florence, drink wine, read book.

One thing is certain: it is easier to fill up down time than it is to carve it out. Although we realize that since we are on 'holiday,' in many ways all of our time is down time. And for that, we are grateful.

So... if you had to pick just one book for your summer, what would it be?


Holland Cultural Difference

Many things have struck me as somewhat odd in Holland. Whether it is something that they do daily or even weekly, there are many small things that are different from my home in America.

Many differences that I have noticed have occurred at breakfast. As most of the places we have stayed at so far have been with the organization Vrienden op de Fiets---which includes breakfast---we get to experience this in full. Most breakfasts so far have been bread and toppings such as jam, cheese, butter, and sprinkles, along with a hard boiled egg. This is in stark contrast to the American breakfast of multiple eggs, several strips of bacon, toast, jam, and maybe hash browns (or in our case cold cereal or toast).

The drinks also pulled my attention; kids and adults alike are expected to have tea, which is not as common in the coffee-capital of the world, Seattle. Personally, I find the Holland breakfast to be enjoyable and a little different in each house, with slight variations on meats, bread toppings and extras, like yogurt and granola.

Another difference I noticed is the quality of life. The Dutch are out of their houses and interacting with others, rather than just staying at home indoors. Half of the country are on their bikes daily, out and about whether shopping, spending time with their family, or going to work or school. There are markets regularly in town squares---especially on Saturdays. Restaurants are everywhere, and many great kids ready to play a pickup game of soccer or go swim in the canal. People are definitely more out and about here than we experience in the United States.

People's houses also are a point of interest to me. They are not huge; rather they usually include a couple beds, a kitchen, dining room, family room and a smallish bathroom or two. Some interesting things in the house are also a bit different: toilets are in their own separate room (like a tiny closet), frequently there are steep, spiral staircases, and a tiled or thatched roof.

Mentality can also be a factor. For instance, the thinking here would be if you get hit by a tram, it is your fault (you should have been paying better attention). Whereas in America, people would think 'this should be safer,' or 'the government should have put in a fence', or there should be a crosswalk here (in other words, it is somebody else's fault). Of course, they do have crosswalks here in Holland, but here people could touch the tram easily, and the trams actually stop for you.

Holland is an interesting place with a lot of bikes, full of rolling countrysides and fun experiences.

Trash Cans Rule.

Efficiency. We found a surprising example of efficiency (one of many examples) here in Europe: trash can constructions. I discovered this in Amsterdam, once while we were waiting for mom to buy more delicious bread and cheese.

An 18-wheeler pulled up right next to us on the corner. We stared in awe as a huge mechanical arm hovered over a trash can, just hesitating, and then
launched toward the iron handle on the top of it.

As the trash can was picked up it made me realize that the trash can was five times larger then it's normal appearence (see photos of huge container beneath the surface). The big metal crate's contents was dumped into the truck, and the crate returned to it's normal position.


licorice drops & herring

Seriously, James took a picture of the back of my cycle. And while we were in Delft's center square, a tourist took a picture of the back of my cycle. Odd?

Well, the basket on the back of my bike holds our snacks and lunches, spare beverages and leftover pastries. And this particular time we had leftover chocolate sprinkles and a Duval (great Belgium beer---my current favorite).

And it occurred to me, when peeking at my basket, that it represented some favorite Holland foods: beer and chocolate. More importantly: good beer, and chocolate made to sprinkle on bread. It just fit.

I probably just needed to add some herring and stroopwafels and cheese... and a few Drops (those black licorice tasting candies---yep, tried them too, the salty variety? One after another, and in varying degrees of enthusiasm, each family member unloaded our 'tastes' into the garbage). I didn't mind the chewy variety so much---they aren't as salty.

We did finally try herring, just so you know. It is classic, and stands are everywhere and there is always a line of Dutch waiting for their herring treat. Honestly, I wish I loved it too. It would be far more authentic than swallowing an omega 3 pill: herring are a brilliant source of Omega 3. But I digress. We tried it, but didn't love it.

pannier leave-behinds... round 7?

If you have read a few of our posts, you know that we get a kick out of lightening our panniers. We are developing an odd pride at pruning our belongings, forcing items to prove their worth.

Not that our panniers are overly weighted, but perhaps we are overly protective of the real estate inside our panniers. We like to be able to pack easily---and quickly. So we continue to leave things behind. In Utrecht, we left behind a pair of bike shorts that really didn't fit either boy very well. (Bummer because they were nice shorts!), sun block that didn't live up to its name, and a cribbage board. Loved the board, but you can 'peg' without all the fancy colors and dots... the board really isn't necessary.

In Gouda I left behind my eye cover---you know those cheesy things you put over your eyes to ensure pitch black... and a better chance at sleeping. Well, I have had NO trouble sleeping. With all the input and cycling and novelty and tracking and photographing it isn't hard to fall into bed exhausted and ready to recharge.

And I left behind a black belt. It is nothing special, one I had actually bought James like 8 years ago. But it didn't fit him so I used it instead. So I left behind a man's black belt that became my token black belt that I wore for 8 years. But I haven't worn it once this summer (with my jeans)---and James reminded me Florence would no doubt have a black belt.

And I left behind an orange camping towel. This one is a little funny; we bought these tiny towels from REI to use when we didn't otherwise have towels. And we have found that we are allergic to some of the detergents used on towels here, so the little orange ones were a great go-to item. EXCEPT that when I used it, the color somehow stayed on my skin and when I wore white shirts, it turned them pink (from the inside out). Yeah... it took me awhile to figure out why I had pink on the inside of everything white that I owned... the towel had to go.


from Gouda to Delft

Actually, from Gouda to Delft was two days, not one. We rode from Gouda through the Kinderdijk---the most famous windmill tour of the world. It was crazy how many windmills there were (19 in just that area). And fun to try to count them all. We cycled over smaller canals, raced to beat the looming dark clouds and even rode a few small ferries---the kind that leave every 5 minutes to go back and forth across a wider canal.

The first night we landed in Oudekerk a/d Ijssel, in the home of a lovely couple who themselves took up cycling after the age of 50. They had books and tales, and had clocked mileage that made us look like we were kicking up our legs on a teeter-totter and not much more.

The second morning we enjoyed a lovely in-home breakfast [we are growing
accustomed to Dutch breakfasts: [a selection of] bread with options of jam, butter, peanut butter, chocolate spread and sprinkles, ham and/or cheese, coffee/orange juice/tea and a soft-boiled egg. Sometimes fruit and yogurt make an appearance. No complaints by the way; we are loving the consistency and flavors, all the homemade jam, the fabulous Gouda cheese, the non-sugary yogurt...]. Then we shoved off and rode to Delft. Day 1 was 35 miles, day 2 just 30 when we finally arrived in Delft.

En route to Delft we had a lovely picnic lunch--something that is becoming a habit for our riding days (quick pit-stop at the grocer to load up on drinks and sandwich makings). James had planned our drop on a bench in front of windmills (ah the benefits of research and travel tips). It was story-book material. We ran across packs of ducks and swans, and when stopping for a photo op, they swarmed Caleb and I.

Our ride toward Delft included one of my favorite stretches so far, an extensive green space of grasses and trees, white picket bridges over canals and [what felt like] our own personal bike path. We enjoyed a little speed and silence in the most tranquil of settings. And always if you peeked into the canals, you would see swans and ducks with their ducklings. Perhaps it isn't such a stretch when James peers into his mirror and I reassure him: yes all your ducks are here. (When it is windy especially, we ride in a tight little duck-like format.)



Gouda. I will mostly remember the wide-open square, where the boys kicked around the soccer ball. I will also remember the bed and breakfast we stayed in; we had our own upper quarters, and a lovely, long conversation with one of the keepers, who is wrapping up his PhD in theology.

Gouda was restful, and quiet; we had nice dinners at an Italian and a Tapas restaurant, and snagged easy lunches from the Albert Heijn right on the town square. (Albert Heijn is the grocery store in Holland---they are everywhere. And I love them. And since I have been in quite a few, I am able to feel my way around them,
picking out chocolate-studded chocolate cupcakes, peppered salami, Gouda cheese aged 48+, Fanta cassis soda and even knoflook boter---garlic butter). Not sure why this makes me gloriously happy... but it does.

We made sure to walk in circles about town, to get a good feel for it. James and I were strolling about when we encountered a fun segue. What a find: a genuine stroopwafel maker. We hopped into the shop and chatted with store owner. She responded kindly to our enthusiasm and actually brought us behind closed doors to watch the stroopwafels being made. We thanked her profusely and zoomed home to retrieve the boys.

They loved seeing the mechanics of stroopwafel-making (is it just me or is that a fun word to say?). A few fun facts: I had read about stroopwafels in my Dutch Food book, and we had serendipitously tried them a day before---and loved them. And later read that stroopwafels were originally made in Gouda... and that today there are only 4 of the original 100 makers left (the rest is up to individuals at open air markets and larger factories). And without realizing it, we had stumbled upon and witnessed 1 of those 4.

Besides a comfortable and proximate lodging, our good luck with wafels and a huge square for soccer, we spent 2 hours inside of the famous Saint John's Church. The church is famous for its stained glass windows, which were preserved through wars and threats and years (windows from other churches over history have also been integrated into Sint Janskirk). When not peering at the windows, the boys and James were on their hands and knees, making rubbings in their journals. (I succumbed to keeping all of my journaling online; but James and the boys are keeping separate journals as well. It is great: they draw sketches, write notes, paste in postcards and keep lists of cities we have ridden through or landed in).


from Utrecht to Gouda

So many observations and experiences are tucked into each bike ride. When you are covering 25 miles and passing through quaint towns, by canals, through farmland and forests... there is a lot to see, hear, think about and remember. And I am finding that if I don't write down my findings from one trip, it begins to seep into a collective memory of rides... and I may forget if I was passing from Alkmaar to Harlaam or just arrived in Utrecht or Gouda. And where was that great market? The one where we bought the cheese and croissants and met that nice lady? Remember those adorable baby goats?

So you see, writing to you helps me keep it all straight.

TODAY we rode from Utrecht to Gouda. On our way we cycled through a town called Montfoort and landed for lunch in Oudewater, most notably to stop and visit the witches' wag. It is a museum/small building tribute to a place where 'witches were weighed.'

There was a sad time in history where individuals [mostly women] were accused of being witches; being weighed was a measure used to prove their guilt or innocence. Witches capable of flying and trickery were believed to be lighter than they appeared. While many scales were purposefully rigged, this scale in Oudewater was famous for being fair. It saved many, many lives.

After being weighed... we snagged our picnic lunch and found an outdoor table in a cobblestone square (Oudewater). Since we are aiming for a tight daily food budget, we have found it infinitely useful to grab our lunch from the grocers on our way out of town. Then, when hunger strikes we are poised with sandwiches and drinks, novelty snacks and fruit. If we find an outdoor market (which we often do), we might pick up some pastries for a mid-ride treat. Lunch was great; and we tried syrup wafels or stroopwafels and fell in love.

[Note: stroopwafels originated in Gouda, and are two waffle looking wafers smacked together with a syrup/brown sugar/butter/cinnamon. They are sweet and round and thin and soft and yummy.]

We arrived in Gouda and were immediately in love with its canals, homes, restaurants and center plaza (the center plaza was large enough for the boys to practice long soccer kicks---we spent multiple rounds of hanging out in the plaza for just that reason). After touching base at the bed & breakfast (with wi-fi!!) we tromped out the door to find dinner. We LOVE the location of our little couple-night abode. It is right in town. We found a lovely meal (AND we are getting much better at reading/understanding Dutch menue!) and then the boys played soccer in the square.

Oh, and about learning Dutch menu terms... mom, dad: you said if I was a boy you were going to name me 'Kip.' Shall I assume you did not know that in Dutch this means 'chicken'?



Utrecht appeared quite popular in tourist books and seems to be held in high regard in Holland. I must say, we enjoyed the city but not because of the city and all of its must-sees.By the time we hit Utrecht we had cycled for 3 days and were ready for a rest. We landed for 3 days in Utrecht, in an ops de fiets (rented rooms out of people's homes---see photo; breakfast included). It was drizzly, rainy and cold all 3 days while we were in Utrecht. And it was the perfect excuse to throw tourism by the way-side and chill out.

It was also the first place we all had wi-fi access simultaneously (2 computers and 2 itouches), and we had a lot of online, picture loading, reservation making, account closing, post writing and all manner of catching up to do. Oh, and email and and and. There were itunes to tune and good books that beckoned. We shimmied into our rooms and rested.

It was also the first home where (for a small extra fee) we were invited to eat one dinner with the family. To which we said yes, because how often do you get a cultural political pulse from the locals? I think we gained more from conversations with this family (on the night we had dinner they also had their oma and one of their grown sons there) than any waltz through the city.

On another night we grabbed drinks and salad from the grocer and actually bought take-out pizza. We really tucked in. Besides, we were there on a Sunday and thus far we have found in Holland, that means the whole town shuts down. Hardly anything open at all.

Of course we did walk into the city---we like to get to know a place on foot. And we had 2 lovely lunches while there, found a tiny corner of English books in a bookstore, enjoyed the sites and walked the canals.

Utrecht highlights in a nutshell: home cooked meals, clean and line-dried laundry, chickens with baby chicks (homeowners had chickens and a rooster, a huge highlight for us), big breakfasts, wi-fi access, a really great lunch with amazing desserts, some light window-shopping, long stretches of reading, and the boys buying fountain pens (for drawing in their journals).


deadly paths

One of the first things to come to mind about our cycling trip: taking a path that could kill me. This is related to our first ride, 25 kilometers of first impressions and discovery.

After we cycled about the first 15 kilometers through beautiful fields of dirt (and some flower sprouts of course), we began the treacherous road (aka our first time cycling in the major city of Amsterdam).

The last 10 kilometers were my first lesson on how to get myself killed.
Session A of my first lesson: single lane road, bike lanes on both sides, and cars going both directions… single lane road… cars going in both directions… hmph. If Session A is scary, Session B is a nightmare. Session B is a nightmare because it is Session A multiplied by 5 on the scariness chart. Reasons: 1. Scooters, 2. Cars, 3. Trams 4. No Stop Lights (almost), and 5. No “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” Signs.

*Don’t worry, I got over this easily*

I make it sound much worse than it is. Sure, it was an adjustment to be part of the main flow of traffic in a major city, but by the end of our first week in Amsterdam, we had gotten the hang of it.


My Top 5 Favorite Memories from May....

We’re just a little over 2 weeks into this trip, and we’ve already had a ton of fantastic experiences. (BTW: “Fantastic” is my word for the trip, because it seems to describe everything for me).

Anyhow, here are my top 5 favorite memories from our European expedition during the month of May.

5. Eating in Amsterdam. We had several amazing food experiences in Amsterdam, namely pastries, coffee, desserts and Dutch pancakes (which is essentially another dessert). Pastries are fresh everyday and tantalizing to the eye and palette. Coffee (Illy espresso) was thoroughly enjoyable on bright sunny mornings with Janelle at our favorite cafĂ©. Dessert was the highlight after an amazing meal at our best meal of the trip thus far at Brix (definitely a ‘must go’ local restaurant). And, of course, Dutch pancakes (thinly sliced apples, thin pancakes, powdered sugar and a reduced apple syrup). All amazing food experiences, particularly given that all were within 1 block of our apartment in the Jordaan.

4. Going into a working Dutch windmill. Unexpectedly, we had the opportunity to climb up into, through and around a working Dutch windmill in Schermerhorn. Most windmills in Holland do not operate daily, and many are also privately owned. However, in Schermerhorn, we were able to see all the inner-workings and mechanics of a windmill first hand. Of course, it involved climbing up 3 stories on old ladders, and crawling on all fours underneath huge gears and shafts, which had all kind of warnings in Dutch (something like “touch this and lose your hand or die”). No way we’d ever get this close to something so interesting and mechanical back home. Most intriguing was the corkscrew water wheel, which moved water from the lower dijk to the upper dijk (that is dike in Dutch).

3. Cycling from Amstelveen to Hilversum. We have put in over 200km cycling thus far, and by far the most interesting day of cycling was also our longest (about 48km / 30 miles). We started in south Amsterdam, then made our way past AJAX stadium (a UFO space ship of a soccer stadium – pretty cool), then along the Vecht River towards Hilversum. The ride included several windmills, forts, animals (cows, sheep, goats, geese, rabbits, horses and all other kinds of birds), a bike ferry and of course canals, canals and canals. We also had the pleasure cycling through a surreal environment among reeds and thickets on a single track dirt travel for about 5 km from Nederhorst Den Berg to Ankeveen.

2. Self-guided Canal trip in Amsterdam. One of our themes on this trip is to have the boys lead us whenever possible while cycling (they each have their own map case and alternate days navigating). Same was true of course for a canal ride through Amsterdam. We rented a small aluminum boat, loaded up on wine, bread and cheese, prayed for good weather, headed to the boat rental, and then handed the engine controls to the boys. It was great to see the boys gladly take the controls of the boat, then guide us through the canals of Amsterdam, while Janelle and I simply indulged in the scenery, food, wine and tried to encourage the boys to avoid any boat accidents. ;)

1. Watching the boys play soccer in Nigtevecht and jump into a canal. By the far one of the best decisions we had on this trip was to have each boy pack a soccer ball (visibly secured on the back of their bikes with a bungee-style net). The balls immediately invite play at every town square, any patch of grass, church piazzas and fill the void whenever there is waiting involved. Such as waiting for James and Janelle to finish a glass of Sambuca (after dinner drink of course), which led to a full out game in the Haarlem town square with about 8 other Dutch children. They were the entertainment of the night.

However, that experience was trumped by our recent wait for a bike-only ferry in Nigtevecht this past week. We had an extended wait (since the ferry driver was “off” for a 2-hour lunch), but no worries, there was a small patch of grass (10m x 20m), 3-4 other kids just off from school, sunshine and a soccer ball. Bikes were parked, Janelle and James went searching in the small town for a bottle of wine and chocolate to kill the time (gladly assisted by a local Dutch resident who rode their bike with us to the store), then returned to find an all-out makeshift game of soccer at the ferry dock (alongside this picturesque canal).

Language was no barrier, and soon other kids in the town of Nigtevecht (about 1500 residents) learned the “Americans” were at the ferry dock. As a result, the game doubled in size and began to involve jumping into the canal if a kid was nutmegged (in soccer terms that means if the ball is passed unexpectedly between your legs by your opponent). It was surreal and an absolute pleasure to witness.

The ferry driver returned to work, but we elected to delay our departure across the canal another hour to allow the fun to continue. With 15km of cycling ahead of us, we did eventually have to depart (sadly). But, the kids exchanged emails and then a couple kids elected to swim across the 50m canal (with us on the bike ferry) just for the sake of it.

We had several goodbyes from across the canal as we climbed back on our bikes and continued our journey. But, this “Dutch experience” left an impression on all of us and certainly made memories for a lifetime.

Life in Amsterdam.

First, sorry that I have not gotten a post up yet, as I have not had a lot of computer access (unlike my mom, who stays up late at night blogging...)

The first two things that struck me about Amsterdam is the amount of bikes (and other two wheeled transports), along with the tightness of the city. I say tightness because many roads are one lane, and there is absolutely zero space between the buildings, so much so that it originally appears to be one large continuous building of many styles. Amsterdam is a city that is completely different from any other U.S. city. It is very... organized, and often a street will have separate bike and tram lanes from the normal car lane. Though it was designed long ago, this city easily surpasses nearly all other cities that I have seen before.

My favorite part about Amsterdam, however, is the overall quality of life. People are constantly outside, on boats, bikes, and scooters. Speaking of boats, as you can see in my picture at right we went boating on the canals of Amsterdam---mainly the four rings of canals in the main part of Amsterdam. Caleb and I took turns driving the boat... also shown in my [profile] picture.

Thankfully while we were in Amsterdam we were able to communicate with many people as they all spoke both Dutch and English. That has changed now that we are outside Amsterdam, but with a little help we have made it this far. Overall Amsterdam was a great experience and a good start to our trip.


we found cheese, candy and darts in Edam

I really liked Edam. We spent two nights there, in our first ops de fiets.

Ops de fiets are places we sleep; people rent out rooms in their homes to cyclists at a good rate, and it usually includes breakfast (ah, a good application for renowned Dutch thriftiness). We also stay in hotels and bed & breakfasts, but love the experience of staying in homes.

In Edam we stayed with a precious old lady who knew almost no English, smiled a ton and had false teeth. She, like many Europeans, smoked. Since 3 out of 4 of us have smoke allergies, it was quite the lesson. In the future, we will confirm 'no-smoking.'

Though despite this gliche (which we made work with allergy pills, open windows, closed doors and allergy slip-cover pillows...if you know me all that contingency planning just put a silly smile on your face), it was a great location and the woman was lovely.

In Edam, we visited a tiny cheese warehouse, where we tasted Gouda cheeses that had been aged various lengths---and most notably were able to taste the May Cheese, which was just released for sale.

It is a quaint town, with tiny cobblestone streets, smallish canals, a few token hotels and a few restaurants and pubs. We managed to land in one of the pubs for the Mancester United v. Barcelona soccer game. Notwithstanding our disappointment of the game's outcome, the boys DID learn how to play [bar] darts. It is fabulous to have them be able to go into pubs. (Recently, at a quick hotel overnight in Amstelveen, Caleb and I shimmied up to bar together: he ordered a Cassis Fanta and I a Duval beer. Lovely.)

Edam was also the boys first introduction to Holland's candy shops. Dutch are quite known for their collective sweet teeth (note false teeth, above), and Anthony and Caleb were more than happy to tow the line. The shop had all sorts of gummy goodness, from chocolates to taffy and licorice, cola treats, gobstoppers and the like.


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