the summer of 2017 was a learning experience for all of us. previous summers had been completely planned out affairs, down to the last weekend, with perhaps the only exception being changes in our route on the boat due to bad weather. to be fair 2017 started out exactly the same way; the girls were all signed up for summer camps in asheville and brevard, we had mapped out what we would do the week before camp started- three days in new york and five days in asheville, our return dates were set and so was erim’s annual boys’ boat trip in august. then asya decided, on a whim, to try out for the dressage team at her riding club.
prior to her try-out asya had only briefly learned a couple of basics about dressage; it was required for her to obtain a pony licensing; and we had purchased a great jumping horse- undercover mojito. but something clicked with asya and undercover and tanya, the dressage instructor and before we knew it asya had shifted from show jumping to dressage and was on her way to qualifying for the junior balkan and european championships! as thrilled as we were with this news, it basically meant that our whole summer planning got thrown out the window…
to say that erim and i were a little stressed about how we were going to make this whole thing work would be a serious understatement- i can’t even begin to count the hours that we spent trying to come up with the best way to juggle asya’s new schedule; a full week in zagreb at the beginning of july, a month of training in welde belgium throughout july and august, and finally, another full week in roosendaal for the european junior dressage championships; with the rest of our summer plans. and of course, we wanted to be there for as many of these events as we possibly could! i mean, how often does one’s child get to compete in the european championships??
in the end, there was a lot of coming and going, children flying on their own with grandparents and team members, and to be honest, a lot of growth- both for the girls in terms of gaining some independence, and learning about accommodating loved ones, and for erim and me as we came to understand a bit better that the girls were, in fact, growing up and that over the next couple of years the chances of our plans going awry were greater than things continuing as expected!
one unexpected outcome of changing all our plans was that we were able to spend four days in the netherlands on our way to drop asya off at her training stables. i hadn’t been to amsterdam since i was a child and erim had only been for work over the past couple of years, so it was a pretty exciting change from our usual nyc- avl plans.
and, even more unexpectedly, we loved amsterdam! i do realize that i shouldn’t be that surprised that it was a lovely city to visit, but for some reason none of us thought we would enjoy our time there as much as we did… here is our trip in a nutshell…
we stayed at the waldorf astoria hotel– it was beautiful and comfortable, and the service was amazing. the hotel building is located in a series of 17th century canal palaces and overlooks the “gentleman’s canal”. it was within easy walking distance to tons of sights and museums and we were lucky enough with the weather that we could just walk out to front door and be on our way every morning.
other options that we looked at and would have also enjoyed were:
the amstel amsterdam hotel– a larger historical building located on the main amstel river, it has an amazing winter garden style restaurant that overlooks the river itself.
the conservatorium hotel– this ultra-chic, modern hotel is located in what used to be the sweelink music conservatory. it’s location in the center of the museumplein is ideal for art lovers, and it is close to the main shopping area of p.c. hoofstraat too. but having seen it up close i would say it is better for a bit older children, asya and alara now as high schoolers would have been thrilled to stay there- two years ago they might have found it a bit too modern.
oh, there is just so much to do in amsterdam! as soon as we arrived i realized we were only going to get to scratch the surface, and i can’t wait to go back, but even in a short amount of time we did get to hit the highlights…
the van gogh museum–an entire museum devoted to van gogh. it was beautiful, and very child-friendly. they even had scavenger hunts for the girls to do, a genius addition that i really think every museum should have.
the rijksmuseum– a museum of dutch art through the ages, i especially enjoyed getting to see the works by rembrandt and the vermeer. the girls were pretty much “museumed out” by that time though!
the stedelijkmuseum– this was the coolest building, it had huge doors and windows and we loved just getting to go in! the museum itself focuses on modern art and design; when we were there we were able to visit the jean dubuffet exhibition which the girls recognized and enjoyed.
the national maritime museum– we all loved this completely family friendly museum! the displays introduce maritime life in general, but also more specifically teaches visitors about how the netherlands was able to become the maritime world power that it was. two super fun features were a “life on board” game room where children learn about life on board a ship and get a certificate, and exact copy of the famous 18th century dutch trading vessel the east indiaman. we got to go down into the hold, pretend to steer the ship with its giant wheel, and see where captains and sailors slept (you can even climb into one of the sailor’s hammocks!) visiting this museum was definitely a highlight of the trip.
the anne frank museum– for me, probably the most important museum in amsterdam, we were lucky to get tickets as our trip was so last minute. i was worried that alegra (age 7) would be scared by the museum, but there are plenty of warnings about sensitive materials and the wording and language was such as we could share as much, or as little detail as we wanted with her. erim, asya and alara got a lot out of visiting; erim did not know the details of the story prior to our visit, and asya and alara had both read the diary of anne frank for school that year. visiting the anne frank museum has been something i have longed to do, and i was so glad to get to share the experience with the girls.
a river cruise–as we left the anne frank house a renovated dutch saloon boat pulled up to edge of the canal and asked if we were the eksioglu family. we had spent the morning trying to arrange a river cruise and when this beautiful historical boat pulled up i simply couldn’t believe my eyes! as in venice, i would say that the way to really see amsterdam is from the water, and after the sobering experience of the anne frank house a river cruise with refreshments and snacks was just about perfect. our captain was also the owner of the boat, the farahilde, and had a wealth of knowledge about dutch history. we all got to sit back, relax, see the beautiful canal side houses, and in the end, we arrived back at the hotel rested and ready to enjoy the rest of our day!
the flower market-an amsterdam classic. we all loved the colors and took tons of pictures, and it was hard to not be able to buy armloads of flowers to take home with us! the whole area around the flower market was also lovely, little boutiques, coffee shops, ice cream stores and a delicious pancake house. we spent a whole afternoon exploring the area, it was the perfect way to spend our first day!
renting bicycles and taking a tour of the city would have also been a lot of fun; we didn’t end up having the time to do that unfortunately- and alegra had not yet fully learned how to ride a two-wheeler bike so i was reluctant to risk someone getting hurt… next time we will do this for sure though!
our first day in amsterdam was basically a half day and we spent it exploring the flower market area and tasting a whole range of new foods and drinks. we had a quick lunch of sandwiches and salads at van rijn café; located just a couple minutes from both the hotel and the flower market in the center of the rembrantplein it was the perfect easy way to start our trip. we decided to wait for dessert until we had found our bearings a bit more and it was a good thing! we visited the happy pig pancake shop for delicious dutch pancakes, and then discovered ijscuypie ice cream and just couldn’t resist stopping for one more treat. along the way we not one but three coffee shops to see which one we liked the best! dam good coffee is right next to the royal palace (which had unfortunately closed by the time we arrived) and has lovely outdoor seating perfect for people watching. screaming beans, which is possibly one of the best names i have heard for a coffee shop, is on a lovely little street and has great coffees and little snacks. our favorite was the coffee company, it has a perfect little bench right outside the front door and all the coffees come with little hearts made out of foam. the girls’ hot chocolates had little hearts too and they loved it.
another wonderful culinary activity to do in amsterdam is cheese tasting. we didn’t think the girls would enjoy it very much so decided not to do a full cheese tasting course, but we did wander in and out of a number of cheese shops and taste what they had on offer that day. amsterdam cheese company was conveniently located two blocks away from our hotel, so i was able to pop in pretty much every day on our way back to the hotel in the afternoons!
for dinner we tried a whole range of restaurants. because we had flown in on an early flight, the first day we were all a bit tired and wanted something easy. casa di david was the perfect choice. a typical italian restaurant with great pizzas, pasta and risotto, it is located on the same canal as the waldorf astoria. the food was lovely, the service was great, and it was the perfect super easy choice for our first night.
the next day we decided to be a bit more adventurous and went to place the harbour club amsterdam. located right on the water it was a huge building that clearly became a night club later on in the evening. the girls loved the graffiti like decoration inside the restaurant and alegra had a great time checking out the sushi station and circular bars. (we obviously didn’t stay long enough to see the nightclub side of things).
two other restaurants that had been recommended to us were momo and enoteca. but on our third night we were so full from our snacks on the boat ride that we decided to just have a drink and a light bite at the hotel’s bar, the vault. the vault, located inside an actual old bank safe, was so cool that we didn’t mind missing the chance to go out. the menu is made up a deck of fake bills with each cocktail’s origin corresponding to a style of drink. for example, the rupee bill orders a cocktail with ginger and pineapple while the baht bill has coconut and lemongrass flavors. we all loved trying to guess the origin of the currencies and the ingredients that might go with each one.
whether it was because the trip itself was totally unexpected, or because we knew we wouldn’t be seeing each other for a while after the trip, overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in amsterdam. the city itself is truly lovely… it is easy to walk nearly everywhere, the museums are engaging and educational, the food we ate was delicious and appealed to both erim and i as adults while being perfect for children as well and visiting in the summer with a bit milder weather was definitely a plus too. as i have said there are still so many more things to see and do in amsterdam and i know we will all be happy to go back again the first chance we get.