Overland travel to Amsterdam
Tram travel in Amsterdam
I have to admit that our itinerary for day 2, Sunday, was in part decided because it would involve no tram travel. Yesterday's post glossed over the fact that, after the Cat Museum, in the rain, and with the scantiest of maps, we got lost, and not in the fun way that you can enjoy when you're young and without ties. No, in the utterly miserable way that you can only truly experience if you have a freaked out child and an increasingly grumpy husband relying on your map-reading, and when your ability to so much as hold a piece of paper the right way up has been severely impaired by a sleepless night on the ferry.
So partly our plans were decided by that experience, and partly it was the issue of the tram tickets. As far as I have been able to work out (and this was corroborated by the two folk I asked), there is only one place you can buy a full week's tram ticket, and that is the VVV office directly opposite Centraal Station.
Having done my research, my first action upon arrival in Amsterdam was to go to said office and attempt to buy our tickets for the week, but the queues were incredible (a bit of a feature of the week, as it happens, no matter where we went. Restaurants, museums, soft play: all allowed us to teach Item the intricate skills of amusing oneself while standing in a slow-moving line of people).
So, as we had just arrived, had all our luggage with us, were due at the houseboat, and planned to take a taxi anyway, I gave up. Only several hours later did I notice that I had walked out of the office holding a Time Out Amsterdam that I had fully intended to pay for when I purchased the tickets. Yes, just five minutes in the city and I had already committed a criminal act: quite an achievement in such a liberal place. I mean, kerb-crawling or dope-smoking weren't going to indict me, so I had to turn to the hard stuff.
Only for the future reference of others do I note that in the end, we bought 96 hour tickets at Leidseplein (hilariously pronounced by The Boy as 'Led Zeppelin'), which turned out to be only five minutes' stroll from our houseboat. We would have saved 10 Euros a head if we'd been able to get the weekly tickets, but it wasn't worth the stress (one thing we noticed a lot, which did impact our finances, is that kids over the age of 3 seem to pay the same as adults for an awful lot of fees and fares. This wasn't universally true, but it was in the case of tram tickets, certainly - and would have more of an effect on families with more than one child, of course. At least one person must think this is unfair: when we bought tickets on the tram for a single journey, the conductor made some universal signal that I interpreted as, yes, you're meant to pay for her, but really, at her age? Don't be ridiculous. It's incredible what a few tilts of the head can convey). I do wonder what rules are dictating which length of tickets can be sold where *rambles off into very dull reverie*.
Van Gogh museum with kids
So anyway, that was what decided us on an easy, walkable destination for Sunday. We were just 10 minutes' amble from the famous Vondelpark, and just a few minutes beyond that was the museumplein. With Item in tow, we weren't going to attempt the Rijksmuseum (which apparently is part-closed for restoration for a mind-boggling 13 years, in any case), but one of our deciding factors in the holiday as a whole had been a visit to the Van Gogh museum.
Regular readers will know that Item has been doing a bit of Art History at school: it does make me laugh, for some reason, when she seriously says "Mmm, that looks like an Impressionist painting", but I am all for encouraging her interest and, of course, I'm fond of the old fellow myself.
We had heard that the queues could be immensely long, so we made sure we set off early for the opening time of 10am. We were in good time, so were able to check out the I Amsterdam letters which are on the square just outside. I'd already shown Item these in my guidebook and she was looking forward to climbing on them. The guidebook said that there was one permanent set - these ones - and another which "popped up all over the city", which led to Item wondering whether we'd be climbing on them when they suddenly darted off to pop up elsewhere. Don't tell anyone, but I kind of hoped so too.
Other parents will be interested to know that there is a) a playground, b) a coffee stand selling very good coffee and muffins and c) a restaurant (which we didn't explore) right by the letters. The playground featured two of Item's favourite things, a zipwire and a jump-on musical giant xylophone, so she was happy.
Arriving at the museum 10 minutes before opening time, we found a short queue (we passed later in the holiday and saw a similar length of queue, so maybe it didn't make all that much difference. We waited a wholly bearable amount of time, even for a 5 year-old. Even for a 39-year-old husband).
Now, it would have been quite feasible that my dreams of bonding with my child over art would all be shattered as she applied her usual speed-racer method to making a circuit of the exhibits, while all the time I mentally counted the cost-per-minute of our visit. But the Van Gogh museum know children, and they very thoughtfully provide, on request, a kind of treasure-hunt.
It's probably among the best of its kind that I've seen. Pitched just right for our nearly-six art historian, it had her searching for pictures based on small fragments of them, answering questions about which she liked, imitating brush-strokes and basically engaging with the art on quite a sophisticated level through very simple questions. Hats off to whoever put that together.
Item even sat and drew the Sunflowers in her sketchbook, while I drew her. Neither of us did our best ever work of art, but hey. It was the vision we had had back in Brighton, when we were booking the holiday, and we were going to make it come true.
Item got a sticker and a free postcard for being a 'Van Gogh expert' (and the museum attendant really checked her answers - I got the feeling she wouldn't have been so well rewarded if she'd missed any questions) and then, inevitably, we hit the museum shop.
On the way home, we thought we'd wander through the Vondelpark, Amsterdam's best-known and biggest park. All my various online guidebook apps were pointing us towards lunch at the "Blue Teahouse", but when we found it, it proved really to be more of a bar, admittedly with coffees and sandwiches on offer. We pressed on and ended up at the Cafe Het Groot Melkhuis (Large Milk House), which was clearly where the local families hang out: there were picture books (Dutch and English) inside, and a rather damp (yes, it was still raining) playground just outside. We had toasted sandwiches, chips and cake, and I indulged in a bottled beer, seemingly a common addition to most cafeteria lunches in Amsterdam.
I can quite see that in warmer months, the Vondelpark would be an excellent place to spend time with kids; as it was, it began to rain very heavily as we walked home, and we sheltered with a lot of other people, under a bridge.
It was time to go home and enjoy our cosy houseboat.
One thing that happened while we were away was that Item observed me sketching, and had a go herself. Never a great one for drawing from life, for the first time she took note of what was in front of her and drew in a detailed fashion; I was proud of her. Plus, I really like how she dates her pictures. Always careful to use the "short date" as she calls it. This is the same view from the houseboat that I drew and included in my last post.