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Even the Rijksmuseum is child friendly

Last week I found myself in Amsterdam aching to go to the Rijksmuseum. Aching? Really??


On our previous trips to the city I had managed to avoid some of the city highlights, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s highlights. I’ve known that the Rijksmuseum was undergoing renovations, but that wasn’t the real reason I didn’t go.

I didn’t go because I’m just worried about my kids in an art museum.

It turns out, I had nothing to fear.

It turns out, the Rijksmuseum doesn’t mind kids.

It turns out, they even have special things for kids.

It turns out, I liked it so much, we went twice!

Rijksmuseum with kids, Part 1

(AKA: Does it count as a visit with kids if the kids were asleep the whole time?)

I’m not sure if I really intended actually going the first time we went. My kids were asleep in the stroller. The rest of our party was on a canal cruise and I needed to pass the time. I was sick, it was cold, and decided to just walk past the museums.

The day before we discovered just how long a long line could be. Even with a museum card or previously purchased tickets people had a serious wait in front of them. I thought if the line’s short, maybe I’ll go in. I approached the line and distracted myself by looking down into the lobby – the warm, inviting lobby.

Then someone said, “do you want to go in?”


So he opened the obvious, not so obvious elevator and pushed “0” and we were on our way. (And for a while, I wasn’t even sure if he worked at the museum or was just someone walking by. I’ve since confirmed he DID work at the museum. I’ve also confirmed I’ll trust anyone that offers me warmth when I’m sick.)

Fortunately, I have a museum card for the Netherlands so I didn’t have to wait in line to buy tickets… because yes, the people that are waiting outside to get in then have to wait to buy tickets inside.

I walked past some renaissance art and headed for an area marked “Asian art” before finding a room called the Picknick room. There were placemats and blank postcards set up with colored pencils, art work, pencils, and pens inviting me to have a seat and draw. Which is exactly how I spent most of my time visiting the Rijksmuseum with kids the first time.

Rijksmuseum with kids, Part 2

(AKA: This time they’re awake!)

One reason we knew the museum was going to be child friendly was their map specifying a route that is interesting for kids. This included stops to see the Dutch Old Masters, doll houses, airplanes and more.

The highlight for my son was Rembrandt’s Night Watch. Not because he’s an art aficionado, but because of the excitement surrounding the piece and because the image is also used on the museum’s ticket. Plus, it’s massive.


Around that time we discovered removable information sheets located next to some of the photos. We played a game of locating the art work listed on the information sheets, and pointing out a detail or two before moving on. Some of the staff even helped us locate the pieces.

While it was fun exploring the museum, kids are still kids. Ok, to be fair, I need a lot of breaks when I’m visiting an art museum.

The Rijksmuseum cafe and Picknick room were both good places for adults and children for those breaks. The cafe has a children’s menu that includes the very popular hageslag (chocolate sprinkles) on bread, or cheese and bread. The presentation was just nice enough to make it feel like a special occasion.


After 4-5 hours at the museum, we headed back to our hotel. What was a big surprise to me is that the kids didn’t even nap while we were in the museum. I guess they were too caught up in the art, but it definitely exhausted them since they napped the whole walk back.

Thoughts and tips on visiting the Rijksmuseum with young kids

  • If you have a stroller you can avoid the long lines and enter via the outdoor elevator. It may take a little looking for, but it’s at the other end of the lobby from where the line forms.
  • It’s best to purchase tickets, or a museum pass, in advance.
  • It’s free for children under 18, but they will still need a ticket. When you enter the museum, the person checking your ticket will be able to give you one for your child.
  • You aren’t allowed to bring backpacks in the museum, so use a different bag to bring anything you will need for the children.
  • Keep your tickets or cards easily accessible because you have to show it at various entry points past the main entrance.
  • There are many elevators within the museum itself. The very first elevator you find will likely have a long wait, skip it and go to another one.
  • Go online and print pictures of some of the artwork you might encounter at the Rijksmuseum. Share those with your kids to start building excitement in the trip.



This post is part of the Instagram Travel Thursday linky hosted by Skimbaco LifestyleDestination UnknownChild ModeHines Sight BlogLive.Do.Grow.House of AnaïsLuxury Travel Mom. Click on any of those links to access all Instagram travel posts.

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Thanksgiving abroad, done right

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. As an expat, though, it can be difficult. Work continues as normal, shops are open, and no one seems to care about turkey, black friday, or American traditions. Well, that is everyone except for other expats and some people in the city of Leiden, NL.

For a little background on how Thanksgiving, Leiden, the Travel Turtle family, and the Three Under family decided to hang out together check out my post from last Wednesday, The Most American Thanksgiving.

One thing you might not know reading that post is that I was nervous. Again, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I was really worried that the choices we made for last Thursday were going to leave me homesick for the U.S. I worried things might border on tacky, or exhausting, or a sad combination of both.

I’ve never been so wrong.

Pieterskirk Special Thanksgiving Service

It was like a dream. Here I was, an expat listening to a Thanksgiving service, in English, on Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by other Americans (and, at the very least, others who wanted to acknowledge a foreign holiday on a Thursday afternoon), while in the Netherlands, home of the Pilgrim’s first expat experience was pinch-me perfect. I think Farrah, from the Three Under, used the word camaraderie, and that was exactly what it was.

The kids surprised me. They did great.

For those with young children considering the Thanksgiving service in Leiden in the future, know this: it’s child friendly. It’s full, but it’s not crowded. When my one-year old was tired of sitting quietly, we headed to the very back of the church where she walked around quietly with other small kids.

After the service, the church offered cookies and drinks. Amongst the choices: snickerdoodles! turkey shaped frosted sugar cookies! speculoos!


Thanksgiving dinner at the Holiday Inn, Leiden

Most of my 30+ Thanksgiving dinners have been in the comfort of someone’s home. One exception was a trip I took to London in my 20s (so much fun!). Another was the year I visited my grandmother in Massachusetts and she opted to go out to eat instead of cook. That one did not go so well. The restaurant overbooked, we waited and waited, then felt rushed. The food was, well, boring. If you imagine the minimal items you need to make a Thanksgiving dinner, that’s what we had. On top of this, it was crowded and hard to enjoy each other because no one wanted to be there.

My nerves for Thanksgiving day mainly focused on dinner. The Holiday Inn’s Thanksgiving buffet was the only option I saw online for Leiden. (While walking through the city after church I saw at least one other restaurant had a Thanksgiving meal. My internet search prior to the trip found at least two in Amsterdam, which isn’t too far away. For future reference, those were at the Hard Rock Cafe and the American Book Store.)

Back to the Holiday Inn. I wondered, would it be crowded? Would the food be ok? Would it be cheesy? Would it make me homesick because it’s impossible to recreate the feeling of the holiday being far away from home?  How are the kids going to deal with sitting at a restaurant after a day of driving to Leiden, attending a church service, walking all over the city and the museums? Can the Dutch make Thanksgiving not only special to me as I know it to be, but to my kids as well?

My concerns were put to ease immediately.

A friendly host greeted us and walked us past a display of American flags, pumpkins, and other season-appropriate decorations. They brought us to our long table seating 9 people. The first thing I noticed was the space. We weren’t cramped so close to other tables that we had to whisper our conversation. There was a large group of about 18-20 people sitting next to us and we didn’t even notice them.

On the other side of the restaurant there was a small playroom for kids of all ages. In it was a ball pit, an indoor climbing and slide contraptions, and several playstations. Our kids alternated between hanging out at the table and running around in the playroom.

I had low expectations for the food. This particular Holiday Inn has a family buffet night once a week anyway. I worried that it would be a slightly nicer version of that, but still not very good.

I don’t know what their family buffet is like, but this Thanksgiving dinner buffet felt special. Someone took good care in making a bunch of expats feel like they were home. There was an assortment of appetizers (I had the crawfish), soups (clam chowder and pumpkin), a salad bar with a lot of choices (and the best waldorf salad I’ve ever had and can’t believe I didn’t get seconds), as well as all the traditional Thanksgiving fixings, plus sweet and sour chicken, steak, (and who knows what else, I stuck to tradition) and a large variety of Dutch and American desserts (including an ice cream bar).

Everything was delicious. The ham, as always seems to be the case in the Netherlands, was amazing. The only complaint I heard, and agree with, is the stuffing had way too much gizzard and the pieces were way too big.

The buffet started at 6:00 and ended at 9:30. Your table was your table for the night. There was no rush, no lines of people looking in waiting for you to get up so they could sit down. You could do the one thing Thanksgiving is known for – graze. It was, without exaggeration, what Thanksgiving should feel like without all the family drama, loads of dishes, and rush to Target’s Thanksgiving day sales… it was perfect.

Would I do it again? I wouldn’t miss it for anything.


  • If  you’re an American and anywhere near Leiden for Thanksgiving, please go to the service and this dinner. It’s a really nice way to keep traditions alive while abroad and you’ll still get a cultural experience you would not get at home.
  • The doors to the Pieterskirk open at least an hour before the service starts. Obviously, the earlier you get there, the more choice of seating you get.
  • Our GPS was not working properly in Leiden. In a first for us, there were multiple times we were told to turn onto a street that no longer existed. Thus, the city streets then seemed really confusing.
  • Reserve your table for dinner at the Holiday Inn in advance. We booked at least 2 weeks ahead of time and I noticed that all the tables were reserved.
  • Get the pumpkin pie early. I overheard someone say it’s the first dessert to run out every year. I didn’t go back to check if it was there later, but I wouldn’t take any chances with pumpkin pie.
  • Book a night at the Holiday Inn Leiden. It’s a nice place. Then you can relax before and after your meal without having to drive anywhere.
  • Take Friday off. Part of what helps make Thanksgiving feel like Thanksgiving is the three-day work week.
  • There is an American Pilgrim museum in Leiden that we missed. We didn’t want to push our luck with our kid’s patience and it didn’t seem to be too double stroller friendly. If you don’t have those limitations, go.
  • For more tips on what to do during the day, check out the Three Under for their review of Thanksgiving in Leiden and on instagram: #amostAmericanTgiving

This post is part of the Instagram Travel Thursday linky hosted by Skimbaco LifestyleDestination UnknownChild ModeHines Sight BlogLive.Do.Grow.House of AnaïsLuxury Travel Mom. Click on any of those links to access all Instagram travel posts.car cover porsche 996 4snews release servicesDefender Discovery MS-630 Black-blue

Nature walk in the Netherlands

As I mentioned on Thursday, we celebrated our 4th on the 5th with some expat friends in the Netherlands. We all had a great time. My son enjoyed playing with the three of The Three Under, and my husband and I enjoyed adult conversation with Farrah, her sister and her husband. We made plans to eat at the pancake house Farrah raves about for lunch on the 6th. What did that mean to us? It meant that we needed to work off both the food we ate on the 5th (delicious bbq chicken and guacamole – oh how I have missed guacamole) plus all the food we were about to consume at the pancake house.

Fortunately our hotel (a last-minute switch when we discovered the hotel we originally booked was over an hour away) was right next to trails. The trails were laid out in a spiderweb design. We started at one of the outer rings, found our way to the center where there was a small open area with a grotto in the middle, and then randomly selected web veins (both wide enough for several people, and less structured veins) to explore. We stopped often to watch bugs, pick up pinecones, get out of the way of the multiple running groups, and wave at the big trains going by. Since we live in a city and more often visit other cities, it’s rare that we get this close to nature. Yes, it was just a small wooded area, but it was just the thing our family needed after the extended winter and rain. Did I mention it was a beautiful, sunny day?

Here are some pictures from the trails:

Our hotel fit in with its surroundings. This is a view from the back.

Our hotel fit in with its surroundings. This is a view from the back.


Nature walk in the Netherlands

When we set off on the trails, they were pretty wide.


After a short time, we found thinner trails to give us a small sense of adventure. And to keep out of all the joggers way!

After a short time, we found thinner trails to give us a small sense of adventure. And to keep out of all the joggers way!


The Grotto marked the center of these trails. We didn't stop for a drink, but many people did.

The Grotto marked the center of these trails. We didn’t stop for a drink, but (contrary to the picture above) many people did.

This popular Dutch bike holds the little ones. This was the only one we saw on the trail, parked while the family enjoyed a snack at the Grotto.

This popular Dutch bike “bakfiet” holds the little ones. This was the only one we saw on the trail, parked while the family enjoyed a snack at the Grotto.


Our little one stopped every few seconds to examine some part of mother nature. This time it was for pinecones. I especially want to remember when he spotted a tiny spider, jumped off his bike, and got really close to it. He could have spent the rest of the afternoon watching it.

Our little one stopped every few seconds to examine some part of mother nature. I want to remember how he would see the tiniest detail, jump off his bike, and get on all fours while staring at it. If whatever he was looking at didn’t move, like this pine cone, he’d pick it up. If it moved then it was likely a bug and he would be both disgusted and intrigued at the same time. One bug that especially mesmerized him was a tiny spider. He’s seen big ones before, but this tiny one was almost too much for him. He could have watched it for hours if we didn’t have to check out of our hotel.


On one of the benches on the trail, one of the jogging groups left their bottles of water. Since we often saw them running circuits, I'm sure the waters weren't left unattended for too long. And since it was warmer than it has been in a long time, I'm sure those bottles were quickly emptied.

On one of the benches on the trail, one of the jogging groups left their bottles of water. Since we often saw them running circuits, I’m sure the waters weren’t left unattended for too long. And since it was warmer than it has been in a long time, I’m sure those bottles were quickly emptied.

I’m glad our short trip to the Netherlands included this excursion. Although we have never been to Tilburg and could have tried to explore the city, we were happy to be out with the locals enjoying nature. And we found yet another reason to love the Netherlands. The people on the trail were extremely friendly, the trail itself was clean and well-maintained, with plenty of spots to rest. And the pancake house we went to later? Delicious!

Now for some crowd sourcing… what are your favorite hotels that aren’t in major cities, but offer a lot of outdoor activities nearby?macbook pro case neoprenemacbook air 2013 hard shell casePanasonic Alkaline Power LR03 BL4Air Sync PHD07

Amsterdam’s Science Center NEMO

The first thing my 20 month old noticed when we walk into the NEMO science center in Amsterdam was the bubbles stations. He forgot the year before when my husband tried to stand inside the a large bubble and it popped. My poor baby cried until we distracted him with all the buttons in the next area. (Poor baby being my son, not my husband)

This time, my toddler wanted to try it for himself. The problem? Too many big kids. So, while we tried to get him to use some of the other bubble making tools he eventually lost interest. Which was ok because there were many new and exciting activities waiting for him. (Side note: they import their soap used in the bubbles from the USA!)

Fact: The only time you can take a picture of an excited toddler inside a science center, the moment he sits down on one of the exhibits.

Fact: The only time you can take a picture of an excited toddler inside a science center, the moment he sits down on one of the exhibits.

Of course there were tons of exhibits waiting. Science Center NEMO is huge. I would soon rediscover its five floors by chasing my little boy. He ran from exhibit to exhibit to exhibit. Between my husband and the grandparents, someone was always trying to rein him in. Since I was super-pregnant with our daughter, I got out of a lot chasing duties.

TIP: don’t want to be responsible for chasing a toddler around? Go during your third trimester!

He was worse than a pinball because of all the other pinballs running around him.

This place is great for all ages!

The first time we visited NEMO Science Center our son was only 8 months. Since he wasn’t walking yet, we tried the Age Machine. We took a picture of ourselves, then moved a dial to see what we looked like as a kid and what we will look as we age. My husband as a kid was eerily accurate. If this is any indication, that means my son will not be the best looking old man.

I loved this exhibit. You take a picture of yourself and then you can see what you like like as a kid and as you age. This is my husband as a kid. It looks exactly like him.

I loved this exhibit. You take a picture of yourself and then you can see what you look like as a kid and as you age. This is my husband as a kid. It looks exactly like him.

Unfortunately, if it's accurate this is what my little boy will look like when he's old. (He kind of reminds me of my mom!)

Unfortunately, if it’s accurate this is what my little boy will look like when he’s old. (He kind of reminds me of my mom!)

My son’s favorite exhibits had one thing in common: buttons. Still, there was one button that stood out in a room of buttons. He’d spot this button from far away and we knew what was about to happen. Arm extended in front of him, raised with his finger ready to push, he’d start running. Then the four adults in our group would look at each other. Using just our eyes for communication we would assess who was closest, fastest, and who he was most likely to listen to. Most likely it was grandpa. So, grandpa would go after W before W got to his favorite button of them all: the elevator button.

Fortunately the elevator button “exhibit” wasn’t his favorite. I think that honor goes to a ball exhibit called Machine Park. I’m not entirely sure what the point was since there were several stations, each doing something different. At the one my son picked he had to grab a ball and push a button. The ball would eventually make its way around, get dropped into a bucket, and the process would start again. You could even get a progress report. He’s going to make a great line worker some day.

He also loved one so popular with kids, it was hard to read what it was about. The kids were covering a lot of the explanation and doing the experiment. I think it was about water purification. Warning: toddlers don’t care about purification as much as they care about water. He ran in and minutess later, after his grandfather caught up with him, they both came back to us soaked.

Addressing sexuality in a science center

As for the adults in our group, we got the biggest kick out of the Teen Facts floor. It’s about sexuality and the changes teens experience during puberty. You know you’re in a science center in Amsterdam when…

Within this area a separate area restricted to 18 year olds. I’m too much of a prude to go into details, but I will say that it was a discrete area. A staff member kept young kids out.

Back to the unrestricted area. Along one wall there was a cartoon showing the development of a boy and girl from baby to teenager and repeat. It was really cute and a reminder of that awkward puberty stage. You can watch the video here, I highly recommend it.

The funniest exhibit definitely goes to the French kissing booth. Here you tongue battled with anyone you wanted, but not how you think.

French kiss strangers!

French kiss strangers!

Take a break from it all

The highlight at NEMO was the rooftop. Along one side of the building there’s stadium style seating with views of Amsterdam. When we were there in 2011 the rainy weather kept people away. In 2012 I left the grandparents with my son so I could enjoy some quiet time alone. Not going to happen. The sun was out and my peaceful city-escape was crowded with school kids running around and enjoying themselves. When I noticed the water fountain that all the kids were jumping in I texted the family: hey, don’t bother meeting me up here, no way W will ever leave. Meet you downstairs.

Amsterdam views from the rooftop. This was a rainy day, but you can see the potential if it was sunny.

Amsterdam views from the rooftop. This was a rainy day, but you can see the potential if it was sunny.

There are even fun learning opportunities up here!

There are even fun learning opportunities up here!

Practical information:

  • NEMO Science Center is a 15 minute walk from Centraal Station, next to the public library
  • Hours of Operation: Open Daily from June to September (10:00 am – 5:00 pm), closed on Mondays the rest of the year. Also closed on New Year’s Day, Queen’s Day, Christmas Day
  • Admission: Free for kids 3 & Under. As of this post, it is EUR13.50 for everyone else, more details here.
  • There are restaurants and cafes in the museum. You can also bring your own food and eat in designated areas.
  • There are lockers for visitors, available for a small fee.


  • I recommend buying a ticket online to avoid the line, there is a small fee to do so.
  • Weekdays are busy with school trips and weekends are busy with local families. It’s big enough that you can still enjoy yourself.
  • Bring an extra pair of clothes so your kids can enjoy the water exhibits without hesitation.

I recommend this to: anyone with the slightest interest in science or fun, regardless of age. Yes, we are even taking out childless friends who are visiting from the states. I’ll let you know how they like it.

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Traveling with my son’s security blanket

My son’s blanket was laying way down on the train tracks. THE blanket. I was running to catch the train. Something fell out of my backpack. I wasn’t even going to check, but when someone yelled, “YOU DROPPED A BLANKET” I had to look.

Here's the blanket on a trip to Hamburg.

Here’s the blanket on a trip to Hamburg.


When my son was first-born, 7 months earlier, everyone told me to give him something to associate with sleep. When he gets that item enough at bedtime, they said, he’ll know it’s time to close his eyes. I tried various things without luck.

Until this blanket.

It’s made of two materials, one on each side. Light brown on one side, dark brown on the other.

We never intended for this to be his sleep associate. We wanted something small and easy for our travels. But, as we started using it and he started sleeping better, we knew we were in for it.

We brought it on our trip to the US a month earlier. We used it on the flight over. People on the flight told us they didn’t even realize a baby was on board. We used it at the hotel. He only suffered through one night of jet lag. We used it on our road trip from North Carolina to Florida. He slept most of the way.

It was a magic blanket.

Look how happy this blanket makes him!

Look how happy this blanket makes him!

And now it was about 5 feet down in the train tracks. Laying behind the train that was going to leave Amsterdam Centraal Station any second. The train I needed to get on to get home.

Several people gathered around me, muttering what I could only assume to be their condolences for my lost sleep. Images of my son sleeping peacefully with the blanket intermixed with images of him screaming all night without it. My neighbors were going to love me. None of us would ever sleep again.

I was snapped out of it by one strangers voice. She was a little louder than the others and saying something in Dutch. Another woman, a very tall woman, was bending over the side. Stretching as long as she could, she used her umbrella to pick it up. Then she handed it to me. VICTORY!

I tried to stuff it back into my bag. My face was red with the mixture of rushing, anxiety, adrenaline, relief, and more anxiety. I took off for the train again, but this lady’s voice grew louder and louder. I turned to look at her and she said something in Dutch. I looked around not knowing what she could be saying – did I drop something else, did I care?Then she said it in English, “your train, it doesn’t leave for 10 more minutes.” I looked at the clock and she was right.

Have you ever lost your kids security blanket or toy while on vacation? 

My friend, Farrah, over at The Three Under, is an expat living in the Netherlands. I recently asked her what she thought I should blog about and she immediately said, “why you love the Netherlands so much.” As I started thinking about it, I realized that there were too many reasons for one post. Instead of one post, I’m collecting several stories, tips, and pictures to illustrate our experiences. These should explain, directly or in directly, why we like it there. 

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