April 27, 2017
I've always wanted to go to Holland in the spring. Holland is so close here, it seemed like the right spring to plan the trip. The girls' spring vacation fell mid-April: perfect. Some dear friends, who have become like another set of grandparents for the girls, sent us books on Holland last year and Colette studied every page, asking about the windmills and the rows of flowers and the waterways and dykes that make up so much of the land. Thanks to her studying, she was filled with wonder for the country and couldn't wait to go.
The tulips were breathtaking. We covered a lot of territory, from Medemblik almost to Rotterdam, most impressive was the Bloemen Route: Haarlem to Naaldwijk. Along the way we went to the Keukenhof Gardens: millions of bulbs planted in a dream 70-acre plot. I was so fascinated by the fields and fields of perfect rectangular color covering the whole country. Like an exquisite patchwork quilt. And where there wasn't brilliant tulip color the fields were a deep emerald green. A magical mix of ancient windmills and giant modern wind turbines dot the landscape. One can feel the commitment to natural things, preserving the land, the air and the water in that country.
Marguerite, Colette and Romy were beautiful among the flowers. I love watching children's fascination with color and shape of natural things. We lose that along the way. I didn't need to tell them to look or how to appreciate. So intuitive for them. In one field of tulips, I was standing with the girls breathing in the blooms and out in the middle we caught sight of two bunnies hopping up and down among the flowers. We could spy them just at the height of their jump each time. Colette and Romy were convinced they were Easter Bunnies hiding chocolate in the rows of tulips.
Xavier and I both love Amsterdam. We fell in love with the city separately, but agree that the people, the bikes, the canals and boats and the spirit of the place is so refreshing. The only downside, of course, is weather (definitely not the sunny south of France). We took a private boat ride on a wooden vessel, the "Ivresse" from 1913, to experience the twists and turns of some of the more hidden canals. The captain was a wealth of knowledge about his town. Xavier sat right up with him for the full tour. The girls and I spent most of the ride hanging off the back the of the boat, gazing up at the architecture from below. A good vantage point. Lots of theatrical singing (people probably wondered if the boat's name was fitting for these little ones too).
Then a whirlwind visit to the Rijksmuseum. The girls were entranced by an exquisite exhibition called "Shylights": silk chandeliers blooming blooming and recoiling in timidity. I believe it is a permanent installation there now. It was perfectly "in theme" with our trip.
One day we took a steam train and boat ride starting in Hoorn. The girls loved the old steam train's wooden cars and diner and the views of the fields along the way (20 km ride). Perfect spot for a good chat with papa.
Marguerite was walking on her hands every chance she got
At one stop we went into a traditional candy shop run by an older Dutch woman. Colette found her way behind the counter to have a chat with her. She actually didn't speak English (a rarity among that amazing group of people) and spoke to Colette in Dutch. I glanced over when the woman spoke a bit louder - it was clear she was asking, "Did she just ask me where my mother is?" (Indeed, this is a common "Colette" question). She was clearly very touched and expressed that her mother was no longer here. Colette looked at her, nodding with a very sympathetic face: "She's dead."
We stayed in an amazing mix of places (yes, Airbnb) - from a very beautiful apartment in Haarlem to a tiny wooden cabin in the green fields of Leiden. It was dream (apart from Colette's snoring in tight quarters). I love traveling that way - changing it up every night, discovering a new place. Lots of people asked if that wasn't a bother with young kids, but I think they prefer it actually. A lot to pique curiosity along the way.
The MVP awards go to Marguerite and Xavier. Traveling is amazing with these two. First, Xavier's pace. He makes up for any small-child inertia. Just gathers everyone up and presses on. I often have to canter to keep up (while he is handling all the children and luggage). As for her part, Mademoiselle Marguerite is just an incredible child. She is all help and no fussiness. She coaxes the girls to sleep on long car rides and sets their heads just right on her lap, finds fun ways to entertain them in moments of tedium and rarely complains herself. So much fun thanks to them.