School’s out for the summer and it is time for some vacation fun! We are visiting my sister at her home in Amsterdam for two weeks: O and I are exploring alone this first week while M is working in Brussels, then he will join us for the last half of the trip.
Thus far we have visited the North Sea, the NEMO science museum, the Van Gogh museum where children can go on a “treasure hunt” (and their parents learn some art history!) and the Artis Royal Amsterdam Zoo. All have been good fun and worthwhile, but I was especially impressed by the zoo which had rolling green lawns to picnic on, plenty of benches in the shade, two children’s play areas and the most amazing free wagons to cart little ones around in. You get the wagon from a carousel, put a refundable €2 coin into one of those things on the handle of some grocery store shopping carts, and away you go! Thanks Genius. Why don’t all large family attractions have this?
We’ve been here a total of 4 days and it is incredible the amount of perspective you gain in such a short period of time. Beyond the amazing bike lanes, gorgeous architecture, meandering canals and friendly people who all speak perfect English there is a sense of relaxation and calm, and I’m not talking as a result of coffee shops and special brownies. No, the people seem genuinely happy and appear to stress less. The many shops and restaurants cater to the consumerism of tourists, but you won’t find many locals shopping “for fun”. Picnic snacks in the hands of adults and children alike have thus far all consist of munching on fruits and veggies. In addition, the air is clean and there are virtually no visual or olfactory clues that our canine friends even live here (say what, NYC?).
And can we talk about the cost of living? Taking into account that this is Western Europe and average incomes are comparable to average US incomes – Nice, spacious, renovated rentals in downtown Amsterdam go for 1/4 the price of our NYC apartment, and on a grocery shopping trip I spent €20 (currently equivalent to $20 USD) on: salami, pâté, a wedge of cheese, spreadable cheese, a large carton of organic yogurt (yes, carton 🙂 ), 2 small yogourts, 2 big bottles of fizzy water, 4 organic peaches, a pound of grapes, a pomegranate, box of crackers and a delicious loaf of bread. Do you know what I can get for $20 in NYC? A wedge of parmigiano-reggiano. Or maybe a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. Sure NYC is expensive, but my Canadian friends will attest to the fact that groceries in Ontario cost way more as well. My sister also regularly buys 3 dozen roses for €5. Flowers everywhere!
According to the most recent UNICEF study (2013), Dutch kids are the happiest in the world. Among the many reasons listed is that they eat toast with chocolate sprinkles for breakfast, have responsibilities and unstructured free time to roam. Again, we’ve only been here 4 days, but the kids do seem happy – from the school aged kids playing around at the NEMO science museum (I didn’t see any teachers nearby), to the large group of 7/8 year olds Dutch kids who joined O for a swim in the water fountain in the Museum District ready with swimsuits and water guns, there is laughter everywhere!
Stay tuned for more pics from Amsterdam!