Amsterdam, Highs and Lows (Week 10 Recap - Dec 2, 2019)
We’ve tried to strike a balance between planned and flexible with this trip. Some things were set in stone before we left, and some things were wide open. I’m not normally one to leave travel choices to the last minute, but when you’re traveling for a year, the calculus changes.
Which is how we found ourselves on November 24 not sure where we were sleeping much less what country we’d be in the following Sunday. We knew we’d be in Milan that morning and the next commitment we had was to be in Amsterdam on Dec 15 when my brother and his girlfriend would arrive. But what to do for the two weeks in between?
After debating lots of options, we landed on what was in some ways the simplest one: why not get to Amsterdam early? I had always heard good things about Amsterdam but sort of assumed it was because people liked that they could get high legally. Not exactly a huge selling point when you’ve got your 10mo old in tow. So what actually convinced me was an article I came across that described “kindercafes” dotted around the city. Cafes where adults could get coffee or a meal, and there was an indoor play area for young children. Given that we were squarely in winter weather, the idea of WP getting a chance to play indoors now that playgrounds were more difficult seemed appealing.
The combination of that and the near endless supply of museums (more indoor activities) was basically what sold me. And I’m so glad it did!
I immediately fell in love with Amsterdam. Some of the initial shine was definitely the varied cuisine (love you, Italian food, but I was sooo ready for Asian flavors). But, man, have you seen those canals? The downtown area is definitely one of the prettiest places I’ve been, full stop. Even though the days are gray and often a bit rainy, and the daylight hours are short, there are no leaves on the trees and the only tulips I’ve seen are in a museum, it’s still astoundingly picturesque with the shimmering water and holiday lights strung up everywhere.
We’ve had Korean, Indonesian, and Mexican food. I’ve had drip coffee. Of course we’ve had waffles, oliebollen (fried dough balls of deliciousness), and stroopwafels made fresh before our eyes.
Since we have 2.5 weeks in Amsterdam, I’ll admit to the sightseeing being slow going at first. We really just needed to chill. We started splitting our days up again (one of us takes WP and the other has the day to themselves) since we have so much time here, which means we’ve each gotten some shopping done and had some time to just sit in cafes on our own and chill.
And of course we’ve been to two kindercafes! It’s pretty simple and low budget, a corner of the cafe cordoned off in the case of Belcampo, and the lower level in the case of MiniChiChi (this whole place is dedicated to kids so it’s a little more elaborate). And honestly while it seemed a strange criterion to use to pick Amsterdam above other options, I’m down with it. The other day I sipped a cappuccino and chatted with a mom from Italy and a mom from Spain while our three kiddos toddled around together. WP had a blast and neither of us was freezing on a frosty playground in the rain.
OK, real talk needed too, though. If you know me you know that I am obsessed with European Christmas markets. I spent December 2009 in Germany (I was studying abroad in grad school) and remember thinking that Germany in December was possibly the greatest space/time combination on the planet. We strongly considered Germany for this two week stretch, but ultimately decided that the benefits did not outweigh the logistics. And there are Christmas markets elsewhere!
So I was very excited to go to the pop up Christmas market this Sunday at the Museumplein here in Amsterdam. We got there, it was charming, and it started to rain. Being outside in the cold rain with a child too young to jump in puddles (OK, too young to jump) is the pits. The market was kind of crowded which made the stroller, with its fancy rain cover, a liability. We left. I was very depressed. I had been building up the Christmas market experience for almost 10 years in my head. And while maybe if I’d been 25 again I’d have knocked back an extra gluhwein and been a trooper about it, instead we pushed the stroller home in defeat. It sucked. It was yet another reminder that this trip may be a totally incredible once in a lifetime adventure, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be a ton of fun.
I was reminded of what a dad of a toddler I met on the playground in Genoa said to me last week. We were chatting in a mix of Italian and English and I explained that we were traveling for a year, and he said “Wow, it’s hard enough to have a young kid at home, I can’t believe you’re doing it while traveling.”
At the time I just chuckled, but that remark has stuck with me. This time is amazing and when I think about how totally different my life was a year ago, I can’t even believe I’m the same person living my same life - how can one December and the next bear so little resemblance to one another? But it’s also super frickin hard to travel like this with a baby. We have only what we can carry - literally. We have no support system around us. We are living in a different apartment every few days or weeks, our comfort subject to the constraints of a combination of what we can afford and the whims of our Airbnb hosts. Every now and then I think - “Well, if it gets too hard, we can go home” and then I remember that we actually don’t have a home. What’s left of our stuff from San Francisco is in a basement on Long Island, I am 100% positive our SF apartment is now occupied by new tenants gratefully paying double our rent-controlled rent, and we have nowhere to go back to. It’s a strange feeling. And I suspect it will persist.
Anyway, this coming week we are getting down to business with museums and the like, making sure we don’t leave Amsterdam without having done the major must-do’s. It already seems like too short a visit and while I’m certain I’ll be back here (we’ve even gawked at the offices with giant windows overlooking canals and the parents picking their kids up from school on bikes, though I don’t think that’s much more than a fleeting fantasy) I don’t want to squander this time. So sightseeing it is!
PS I just realized the title of this post seemed like a pun about how we got high, which was not the intent - this is a family blog, people!