Over the weekend we took a little trip. Beth’s doing very well at school and we haven’t really been away with her this year so we decided to take a city break. We visited Bruges, Amsterdam and Dunkirk and as we’re still in term time, we tried to fit in some educational bits. We were not however prepared for quite the education that Amsterdam would provide :-S
We watched the sun rise over France as we made our way to Belgium. I always feel very reflective when I see the sunrise, especially when I’m with my loved ones. The day is just beginning and feels full of hope and possibilities and we’re starting it together. Beth who had announced that she wouldn’t possibly be able to sleep in the car was snoring in the back. Phill was bolt upright, 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, still acclimatising to the foreign roads; keeping us safe.
Our first stop was Bruges in Belgium. What a beautiful place!!! My Dad is a keen cyclist and has raved about the architecture and amazing food, but you have to be there to really appreciate it.
It was a grey day but dry and not cold and the buildings were more beautiful without the sun in our eyes.
We took a walk around the cobbled streets, visited an ancient Church and treated ourselves to some waffles…..
and some decorations……
and some lace…..
In Beth’s words “all they seem to do here is eat chocolate and go shopping! I love it!” The shops were amazing, but expensive. If you like designer brands, then this is the place for you! Personally we like a bargain ;-P
We carried on to Antwerp where we stayed in the most basic of basic hotels. Trust me the loo couldn’t have been less private if it were actually in the bedroom with us….as a matter of fact, it wasn’t far off that!! But it didn’t matter, all we needed was a good night’s sleep; we were out for adventure, not luxury.
The next day we headed to Amsterdam. This was the main reason for our trip. Since she was introduced to it last year, Beth has been fascinated with the Diary of Ann Frank and has wanted to visit her house.
At first glance, Amsterdam looks like a busier version of Bruges. It has the same tall, thin buildings, the same cobbled streets and canals and the same waffles and chocolate, but as we all know, Amsterdam sells many other things too! The first thing that struck me, was the crowds. Driving through the narrow cobbled streets was almost impossible as bicycles and pedestrians seemed oblivious to oncoming traffic. As if negotiating the roads wasn’t tricky enough, even on the most cramped of thoroughfares, residents had decorated the front of their homes with pots and planters!! They looked beautiful but oh my goodness did they make life difficult!
After we found a parking spot we joined the one hour long queue to visit Ann Frank’s house and after 5 minutes of Phill’s jokes we decided to come back later when the queue died down!!
We visited an exhibition about Rembrant. I’m a big art lover so any opportunity to be surrounded with beautiful paintings and in this case, prints of beautiful paintings, is good by me, but I wasn’t sure how interested Phill and Beth would be. It turns out that Rembrant painted some pretty gory stuff and while I was gazing into the eyes of the portraits, Beth was ‘ewwing and urghing’ at all the blood and guts and Phill was reading about x-rays, frauds and conspiracy theories. Something for everyone!
After lunch we took a stroll around Amsterdam. That’s when she said it: “Mummy, what’s that smell?”
Now I made a promise to myself when Beth was born that I would never lie to her. I might tell her the truth in a childlike way but if she is old enough to understand the question she’s asking, then I believe she should be respected with the truth. So here goes….
“It’s cannabis darling”
“Isn’t that illegal”
“It’s legal here”
“So they must have a version here that’s less bad for you? That you can’t get addicted to? Right?”
“No it’s the same stuff”
“Well that’s terrible then!!! Oh my God! They sell magic mushrooms too!!!!”
“Well sweetheart, all countries are different, in some countries you can’t drink wine or play the lottery.”
“Well it smells funny and I don’t like it”
Cue Phill and I moving away quickly. Now we knew we were approaching the red light district but thought we’d been clever about it. We had a map and had worked out a route that would avoid it, but Phill kept telling me that I just had to walk down that street.
“You can’t come all the way to Amsterdam and not see it” he said. “I’ll stay here with Beth, just walk one block down and circle back” he said. “Don’t be such a scaredy cat” he said.
So my curiosity got the better of me and I took a stroll down that street. I didn’t see much, as it was early. There was a very troubled man shouting at passers by and a whole lot of English men looking like they’d never seen a naked woman before. All things considered I was glad when I got back to Beth and Phill. That’s when she made her second observation of Amsterdam.
At a cleverly chosen spot, out of the way of that street, Beth and Phill stood infront of a window. A window which though it had been covered by shutters when they arrived, was now occupied by a middle aged lady in her knickers.
“There’s a lady with no clothes on there…..she’s waving!!! Why on Earth? Why is she just stood in the window?”
Remember my commitment to telling her the truth????
“Let’s go and visit Ann Frank’s house darling, I’m sure the queue has gone down now.” It hadn’t.
So we waited for an hour but it was worth it. You aren’t allowed to take photographs inside because the curators are worried that flash photography may damage the pieces on display which include Ann’s actual diary! The signs at the house , which is now a museum also explain that visits to the house can be an emotional experience for some and that they shouldn’t be distracted by photographs being taken. I found this really heartwarming. It’s the first time I’ve seen people’s emotions being publicly considered this way and I really think it should be utilised at other points of interest.
It’s hard to describe Ann Frank’s house. I suppose their living space was larger then I expected and the conditions not as terrible. But the fear was almost tangible still, if that’s possible. When walking around the living quarters, there was a respectful silence amongst visitors. People took the most time in Ann’s bedroom where you can see the actual posters and clippings that she pasted onto her walls. It really brought home to me how young she was and how much potential teenagers possess. It’s strange to consider what she might have become had she not died, just one month before the end of the war.
Beth said she wished they had filled the spaces with reproduction furniture so that you could really imagine how it might have been, but I preferred the emptiness.
Almost immediately after we left the building, Beth narrowly missed being run over by a moped.
“I do not like Amsterdam. They sell drugs?? They sell ladies!!!?? And one of them just nearly killed me!!!! Can we please go back to Belgium?”
So that’s just what we did…for another night in the very basic hotel ;-P
Before we boarded our ferry at Dunkirk we visited the graves of British soldiers. They were very well kept and they were many. I’m not sure what else to say.
Apart from the ages of the deceased, many only in their late teens, we were struck by the graves of unnamed soldiers. I couldn’t help thinking of their mothers. Somewhere a mother lost her child one day and she will never, ever know that he’s here, below my feet . She’ll never be able to visit him, never lay flowers on his grave. The graves had roses growing over them, that made me happy and I felt I was doing a service to all those mothers of unnamed soldiers by standing there, with my girl, paying my respects, saying a quiet prayer.
Our visit to the cemetery left us running a little late. We arrived with 20 mins to spare but for some reason weren’t allowed to board by the ‘check in’ lady. The powers that be didn’t understand why either and made sure we were welcomed into first class on the next available crossing. So they are forgiven!
Don’t get too used to the good life kiddo, it’s back to ‘steerage’ for us next time. ;-P
We got home exhausted and a bit smelly but very happy. While driving holidays aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, they work for us. We listen to audio books in the car and treat the journey as an adventure.
I wonder where we should go next?
PS. Just a quick note. Bethany has a different surname to Phill and I as she was given her father’s family name. This has caused a raised eyebrow when travelling but nothing more and when driving over to the continent it has never even been acknowledged. Well things have changed. bethany was asked questions to prove that she was my daughter and we were told that in future I will need to provide supporting evidence to prove that I am her mother.
Now before I was married, her birth certificate would have been sufficient but I’ve married since then and my surname has changed. So I will need her birth certificate and my marriage certificate. I’m a bit wary of carrying all those documents around but so be it if it prevents children being taken?
We were lucky that Beth is 11 and able to answer questions like what is Mummy’s full birthday including year etc, but a younger child would struggle. I just thought I’d include this lest any of you be refused travel with your little ones for the same reason.
Happy travelling. x