Overland travel to Amsterdam
Amsterdam trams, the Van Gogh museum for kids and the Vondelpark
Amsterdam flea market
Cat Boat and Hema
Amsterdam science museum
On the Tuesday, we decided to visit the science museum, aka NEMO, a massive building which sits, in the shape of a towering copper-clad ship, just to the east of Centraal station, on the docks. The approach to the area is currently a massive building site which includes, as we were later to discover, the incredible Amsterdam Public Library - see further down this post for some uncontrolled fanship for that building, possibly to include blubbing.
NEMO cleverly includes the entrance to an undersea car-tunnel, dealing niftily with a potentially ugly bit of civic engineering, the only real casualty being the view from the otherwise idyllic roof-garden. Having said that, the pure bravado of the location and the whole concept does add to the stunning feeling when you're up there.
[If anyone would like to put forward a theory as to how Item looks five-going-on-fifteen in this picture, feel free. I guess it might be the H&M skinny jeans. It's funny, because in the next set of photos I took, she reverts to looking about 2.]
If the sound of traffic from below the museum permeates the upper floors, we certainly wouldn't have known about it, thanks to the echoes of excited children's voices that provided a wall of sound from the minute we stepped in. It was Dutch half term and the building must have been close to capacity, despite its gargantuan size.
At least, I assume that's why there was such a lengthy queue to get in. I guess we waited half an hour; there was a water-wheel to watch while we inched in, the VOC ship replica Amsterdam to look at, chocomel on sale, and, once in through the doors, a game which allows you to keep a ball up with a blast of air from a model rocket.
A quick note about payment: this was one example of Amsterdam's attractions where you paid as much for a five-year-old as for an adult: thank goodness we weren't the family in front of us, with their four white-blond boys. Also, this was the first day I'd left our passports at home, which turned out to be rather annoying since they wouldn't take a card payment without a photo ID. Thanks heavens we had enough cash on us, because I really wouldn't have wanted to go to the back of that queue again once we'd visited a cashpoint.
Now, with a high entrance cost and a long wait to get in, NEMO was in a deep deficit. It had a lot of making up to do - and it juuuust about made up for it. I hesitate slightly because of the general feeling of mania that prevailed in this building full of over-excited kids. We came out hoarse from having to shout just to converse with one another. But the exhibits really were something else.
Every guide book revels in NEMO's slogan that it's "forbidden NOT to touch", and it's clear that every single exhibit was designed with this precept in mind. Given that kids always enjoy those components of a museum most where they are allowed to press a button or open a drawer, this has to be a winning idea. Added into the mix was some really fabulous modern design, meaning that everything was in bright colours, rounded corners and appealing graphics. I'm sure there was also some really solid science behind it all - yes well, there was - but I'm equally sure that it all went way above Item's over-excited head.
[One nice touch, for someone like me who has an interest in the presentation of information - was an invitation to leave your email address to find out more about an exhibit.]
At Item's age, you don't care at all how, for example, you are appearing on a TV screen - you're just delighted that you are.
[You can probably spot The Boy in here - Item is in there too, but much harder to discern.]
And the same goes for pulling yourself up on a rope-suspended seat, maneuvering levers to open and close a hinged ball, and damming a waterflow to make power. Oh, and what they must have known was the main event, since it was the first thing you come across after having your tickets checked - the chance to stand inside an enormous soap bubble. That was a crowd-pleaser and no mistake.
Coming out onto the roof was a blessed relief after all the button-pushing chaos (also, parents of young children may wish to usher them swiftly past the 'sex' section on, I think, floor 3, which is definitely angled towards teenagers).
We ate in the museum cafeteria, which had fairly decent food but was pretty busy, as you'd expect I guess. I had to take a picture of The Boy's meal as the least sandwich-like sandwich I've ever seen. The deconstructed sandwich, if you will.
Amsterdam public library
Now for the uncontrolled crying. Not from Item: from me, the lover of great architecture. We were on our way back through the building site between NEMO and the centre of town when Item said, how about popping into the library (we'd pointed the enormous building out to her on our way there). We *so* nearly said no. You know what it's like when you have an agenda - in this case to get home after a frantic museum visit - and your kid comes up with an off-schedule idea.But oh my goodness, I am so very glad we complied.
We were expecting nothing: we hadn't thought about the museum until the moment we entered. I think at this point I need to stop writing and let some photos do the work.
There's even a cafe:
The children's section is the entire basement: as you can see there are some incredible seating options, which include that creature in the first picture, the red chairs you can just about see (which are the most comfortable seats I've sat upon since the gliders in Mothercare's feeding room), and one thing you can't see. Within one set of those rounded shelves, there's a spiral staircase leading to the top, where there is a variety of cushions to lounge on.
If I had to nominate a 'hidden gem' for families in Amsterdam, this'd be it: most guidebooks don't mention the library, but oh my goodness, if you have kids, you'll be so grateful for it. We visited twice, and incidentally, it didn't seem to matter much to Item when the books were in Dutch, as they mainly were. She just looked at the pictures and figured out her own stories.